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Bristol’s Omicron peak still weeks away, as hospitals declare internal critical incidents

Bristol is seeing very high rates of infection, but this isn’t translating into lots of people needing hospital treatment, say health leaders.

Coronavirus in Bristol

Bristol is still weeks away from a peak in Covid cases, according to the city’s public health director. 

Christina Gray said the latest wave of infection spread out from London and has hit the South West, but the picture in the capital offers some hope – the high rates have been “decoupled” from the level of hospitalisations and severe illness. 

She said that was thanks to people changing their behaviour and getting vaccinated. 

In Bristol nearly 1,500 in every 100,000 people are infected, while North Somerset is just over 1,000 and South Gloucestershire is around 1,200. 

Gray told Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group leaders on 4 January “Those are extremely high rates. In Bristol we’ve had almost 7,000 positive cases in the last seven days. 

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“What we are seeing reflects what was seen in London – high rates but less severe harms,” she said. “There’s certainly been a decoupling of the rate compared to hospitalisation and severe illness. We’ve absolutely seen that. 

“That’s for two reasons – people are vaccinated, and people have adapted their behaviours. 

“There’s been a huge and public pivot to adapt behaviours. Everybody knows what to do and the majority want to take actions that will keep themselves and others safe. 

“If predictions are correct we aren’t yet at the peak and won’t be for two to three weeks,” she said. “We’re going to have to brace for three to four weeks before we’re up and out of this.”

Gray said the vaccination programme remains important and health services are targeting areas across the region where uptake has been low. 

“We’ve seen more people come forward for their first vaccinations but Bristol is still lagging behind on first, second and third doses, behind England. We aren’t taking our foot off the gas,” she said. 

As of 4 January, just under half of Bristolians have haid their booster jab, while the uptake for the first and second doses are at 77.4% and 71.1% respectively. The equivalent figures for the whole UK are 90.2% (first jab), 82.6% (second jab), and 60.1% (booser jab).

“We’ll be continuing to encourage people to come forward in a no-blame way,” Gray said. “People have very considered reasons and fears why they are hesitant. We need to be listening and engaging in the dialogue as much as we can.”

Internal critical incidents at Bristol’s hospitals

CCG chief executive Julia Ross said the Christmas period had been particularly difficult and the NHS faced large workforce challenges as people had to self-isolate. 

The two hospital trusts in Bristol have declared “internal critical incidents”.

The number of Covid patients in hospital across Bristol’s two NHS trusts peaked at 137 in early November, and has since remained relatively stable in the region of 100, which is considerably lower than the all time peak of 451 in January 2021. However, figures are yet to be released for so far in January 2022.

Ross told the CCG’s governing body: “We’re not expecting things to get any easier over the next few weeks. 

“Indeed, our modelling would suggest we might be expecting a spike of Covid activity as a result of Omicron in the middle of January. 

“We’re busy putting in place a range of mitigations for that eventuality. Those mitigations range from additional acute capacity through to changing the ways we do things like opening up more virtual capacity in the community, having more hospital at home type services and extending our use of voluntary sector partners.”


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