The Omicron variant of Covid is surging across the UK, but the government seems determined not to go beyond its famous â€śPlan Bâ€ť â€“ the restrictions weâ€™re living with now.
Claudia williams, narrating:
Hello, Iâ€™m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker.
One story every day to make sense of the world.
Today, pressures on the NHS and whether the government is right to sit tight.
â€śOver the last10 days weâ€™ve seen lots of pressure in London. That is now moving to the rest of the country, itâ€™s showing up in the rest of the country exactly how itâ€¦â€ťChris Hopson speaking on TalkRADIO
Thatâ€™s a man called Chris Hopson speaking.
If youâ€™ve had the news on in the past 48 hours, then you might have come across him.Â
Heâ€™s the CEO of NHS Providers, the organisation responsible for NHS trusts in England.Â
As CEO, Chris Hopson oversees negotiations between Englandâ€™s 223 trusts, and the Department of Health.
And his role is now really important.Â
Thanks to Covidâ€™s latest variant, Omicron, Londonâ€™s trusts were the first to come under significant pressure from spiking cases.Â Â
That pressure is now spreading across the country.
â€śItâ€™s, we think a minimum of about half a dozen trusts have had to call critical incidents so that they manage those staff absencesâ€¦â€ťChris Hopson speaking on TalkRADIO
As cases rise, so does the anxiety about our healthcare system.Â
What will happen if many people are hospitalised with Covid, or, if so many staff are off sick and isolating that the system grinds to a halt?Â
Experts believe thereâ€™s a 10 day lag between what weâ€™re seeing in London, and what weâ€™ll see elsewhere.
But despite this tidal wave of cases, Boris Johnson and his government are holding back on new restrictions. Theyâ€™re focused on boosters.Â
So, as we start the new year, with Omicron all around: is the British governmentâ€™s strategy working?
Winter pressures in the NHS are nothing new.
â€śThis is normally, the first week of January, is normally the busiest week of the year for the NHS and we know that there is a huge amount going on in terms of non-Covid careâ€¦â€ťChris Hopson speaking on Sky News
You may remember the winter of 2017 / 2018, a shocking jump in death rates as a result of ambulance delays, and a lack of beds.
And that was before the pressures of a pandemic.
â€śWeâ€™re seeing larger numbers of patients come into hospitals with Covid-19, so weâ€™re now at 14,200 patients in hospital, a week ago we were at 8,400 so thatâ€™s a 68 per cent increase.â€ťChris Hopson speaking on TalkRADIO
The pressure is mounting.Â
In response to the threat from Omicron, the NHS is busy setting up new â€śNightingale surge hubsâ€ť at hospitals across the country.
These will be temporary structures that can house around 100 patients.Â
Elsewhere, some trusts are considering whether gyms, or education centres, could be converted into nightingale sites.
â€śItâ€™s a no regrets approach. What you donâ€™t want to do is hit a point where you need to treat very large numbers of patients where you simply donâ€™t have the facilities and capacity to do it.â€ťâ€ťChris Hopson speaking on Sky News
On Monday, the current number of people infected with Covid-19 in hospital was 14,210.Â
Theyâ€™re below the peak of last winter â€“ 34,000.Â
But beyond the numbers, the important question is whether patients in hospitals with Covid are there because of Covid, or because they are being treated for something else and just happen to be infected?Â
Thatâ€™s important because it shows a hospital case this winter isnâ€™t the same as earlier on in the pandemic.
The latest data shows that a third of patients admitted to hospital in England with Covid are there because they were being treated for something else.
They just happen to have the virus tooâ€¦ they are, simply, â€śincidentalâ€ť coronavirus admissions.
â€śIn the past three waves, about two out of every three patients admitted were cases of severe disease. And right now we have only one out of four cases that is severe, a marked differenceâ€¦â€ťâ€ťProfessor Salim Karim speaking on BBC News
And hospitals are not seeing large numbers of seriously ill older patients.
Although there have been outbreaks in care homes, Chris Hopson has found this doesnâ€™t translate to hospital admissions.Â Â
Itâ€™s encouraging news.
Thereâ€™s growing optimism that Londonâ€™s hospital trusts should be able to cope this week, a trend that the NHS is hoping will continue across the country.Â Â It explains why the government is holding firm, and not bringing back the measures we saw in the last wave.Â
For Chris Hopson though, itâ€™s no time to relax.Â
What impact will New Yearâ€™s celebrations have? And what about the return of schools? A lot is still uncertain.Â
But for now â€“ the situation is serious, but stable.Â
The battle â€“ between locking down and staying open, between boosters and variants â€“ continues, with a slight advantage to us.Â
Itâ€™s boosters 1, omicron 0.
Todayâ€™s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.