COVID rates in Dorset will soon be at similar levels to those seen in London as the surging Omicron variant creates a ‘constantly changing picture’, warns health chief.

Across the country 87,565 new coronavirus cases were reported yesterday, December 16 - the highest we have ever seen on any given day since the pandemic began.

Currently, the Delta strain is the most dominant however this is expected to be overtaken by the rapidly transmissible Omicron variant - first identified in the UK on November 27.

‘Constantly changing picture’

The director of public health for Dorset and BCP Council has warned that the county is not far behind London and other areas which are seeing spiking infection rates. Sam Crowe said: “Infection rates have remained at a high level for a number of weeks across Dorset and BCP Councils, largely driven by the Delta strain. 

“The number of Omicron cases is a constantly changing picture, and we know from national data that this variant is spreading very quickly and is expected to become the dominant strain soon. 

“Locally we receive information from a range of different sources at different times and to date we have a small number of cases confirmed to be Omicron across Dorset, but we expect numbers to increase quickly, as there are a number of other highly probable cases which are likely to be confirmed in the coming days.”

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Dorset Echo: Director for public health Dorset and BCP Council, Sam CroweDirector for public health Dorset and BCP Council, Sam Crowe

‘Omicron is surging quickly and we expect to see this in Dorset soon’

Despite the rising number of cases, the number of hospitalisations in Dorset has remained steady during the last four weeks - though this is quickly expected to change.

Mr Crowe said: “We have seen a small drop in infection rates and hospitalisations in Dorset over the past week, but we know that we are slightly behind other areas like London where Omicron is surging quickly, so we expect to see this in Dorset soon. 

“There is always a time lag between infection, hospitalisations and then sadly deaths, so it may be a few weeks before we see the real impact of any surge on people becoming seriously ill. 

“We don’t yet know enough about the severity of the Omicron variant, but even if it does turn out to be less severe than Delta, with the rate of infection we anticipate it is likely that we will see an increase in people needing hospital treatment.”

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Dorset Echo: New booster clinic in Wallisdown Road, PooleNew booster clinic in Wallisdown Road, Poole

 ‘Think about what is important this year’

Despite the government not issuing any formal guidance to the public in terms of gathering this Christmas, health chiefs are urging people to act responsibly. Mr Crowe said: “Many of us were looking ahead to a more normal Christmas this year, and we know it’s really challenging to make difficult decisions about the right thing to do. 

“Unfortunately, the virus is spreading fast and it thrives when people gather together, particularly indoors and in large numbers, which is what many of us usually do over the festive period. 

“The government hasn’t introduced restrictions on gatherings, but we’re asking people to consider the risks involved and take steps to celebrate as safely as possible. 

“Testing is really important – do a lateral flow test to make sure you’re not infectious, and if you have any symptoms at all, please self-isolate and arrange a PCR test. 

“Ventilation is key to dispersing virus particles so if you are meeting others, outdoors is best, but if you can’t do that, keep doors and windows open indoors. 

“Think about what your priority is this year – if you gather with people unnecessarily, your risk of catching the virus is increased which means you’re more likely to miss out on the things that are most important to you.”

Despite the ever-changing picture, the rise in cases and the increased demand to deliver the vaccination programme - frontline workers, who are giving up time with their loved ones this Christmas, continue to do so for the benefit of public health.

Thanking everyone on Dorset’s frontlines, Mr Crowe said: “Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who is helping expand the vaccination programme at an incredible pace to make sure everyone eligible can get their jabs, including their booster, as soon as possible. 

“At this time of year when many of us take time off to spend with family and friends, NHS staff and volunteers are working flat out to protect people from the virus once again. 

“Please do what you can to support them by being patient and understanding whilst the programme is rolled out and reduce pressure on the NHS by following the public health measures to reduce transmission.”