The regions of England with the lowest vaccination rates are seeing Covid hospital admissions rocket, while they are remaining stable or even falling across the rest of the country, exclusive analysis shows.
And it may give further ammunition to Conservative backbenchers keen to avoid a nationwide lockdown after Christmas.
London has England’s lowest take-up of the booster programme, with fewer than two in five over-12s having had a third jab by 19 December.
The capital has also been at the epicentre of the country’s Omicron outbreak, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan declaring a major incident on 18 December.
An estimated one in 10 Londoners had the virus on Sunday (December 19), according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
There were 1,677 Covid hospitalisations in the capital in the week to Tuesday (December 21), a huge 49% rise from the previous week.
Meanwhile, the South East and South West, which have among England’s highest booster jab take-up rates, have seen hospital admissions fall slightly in the seven days to Tuesday, compared with the previous seven days.
The latest data shows wide regional disparities emerging across the country, as the Government considers whether to impose new restrictions for England after Christmas, after Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all announced new measures.
Ministers are being kept updated on the latest situation in the nation’s hospitals over Christmas, health chiefs have said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not imposed any further restrictions for England over Christmas but has indicated he will not hesitate to act afterwards, with Monday expected to be the first opportunity to consider if changes are needed.
In his Christmas message, the Prime Minister described the vaccine as an “invisible and invaluable present” to loved ones.
Around one in 35 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to 19 December, according to estimates from the ONS.
This is up from one in 45 in the week to 16 December.
One in 35 is the equivalent of about 1.5 million people and is the highest number since the ONS began estimating infection levels for England in May 2020.
UK Health Security Agency chief Jenny Harries suggested the Government might consider whether new restrictions are needed in England based on the wider impact of the Omicron wave rather than just the severity of the illness.
Asked whether the Government will have the information on Monday to make key decisions, Dr Harries told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Christmas Eve: “Ministers will look at all of the data that we have available – and that isn’t simply what the epidemiology is saying, it’s how it’s impacting society.”
She added that ministers are being kept updated on a daily basis and that will continue throughout the Christmas period.
The Government may have left it “too late” to protect the NHS against the Omicron wave unless it heeds the advice of scientific experts on tighter restrictions, the head of the Royal College of Nursing has said.
Pat Cullen told BBC Breakfast on Christmas Eve that ministers should heed calls for a circuit-breaker, saying that “if we leave it much longer unfortunately our nurses fear it will be a little bit too late for the health service”.
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