7 key things Professor Chris Whitty told MPs about the Omicron variant

Handout screen grab from Parliament TV of Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England
Handout screen grab from Parliament TV of Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England

England’s chief medical officer has again urged people to prioritise who they spend time with this Christmas, as he warned that hospitalisations from Covid could reach a record high.

Professor Chris Whitty was appearing in front of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee where he was quizzed by MPs on the Omicron variant.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

Here, we take a look at the seven key things Prof Whitty said.

What he said about Christmas plans

Prof Whitty told MPs that “this is highly transmissible and the rates are going to continue to go up.

“It’s a period of the year when lots of people have got things that really matter to them family-wise, also in other bits of their life, and my point was – and I hope I can reiterate this – that people want to protect the time that is most important to them.

“And that does therefore mean in practice it is sensible for people to cut down on work or other interactions with people, including potentially social ones, which are less important to them so that they reduce their chances of catching Covid and indeed reduce their chances of passing it on.”

Prof Whitty said he did not wish to dictate to people what they can and can’t do.

But he added: “This is about saying to people, look, this is a period to prioritise. And also to be clear, (this) was a message the Prime Minister also said last night.”

What he said about Covid hospitalisations

Prof Whitty admitted that the UK could surpass the daily peak number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

He told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee: “The peak of just over 4,500, or 4,583 to be exact, people admitted at the absolute peak – it is possible because it is going to be very concentrated… even if it is milder, because it’s concentrated over a short period of time, you could end up with a higher number than that going into hospital on a single day.

“That is entirely possible. It may be less than that. But I’m just saying that is certainly possible.”

What he said about tackling future Covid variants

Prof Whitty said it is likely that vaccines and antiviral drugs will do “almost all of the heavy lifting” when it comes to tackling future Covid-19 variants.

He told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee: “If I project forward, I would anticipate in a number of years – possibly 18 months, possibly slightly less, possibly slightly more – that we will have polyvalent vaccines, which will cover a much wider range, and we will probably have several antivirals.

“We’ve already got two reasonable ones, and a variety of other counter-measures that mean that the great majority – and probably almost all of the heavy lifting when we get a new variant, unless it’s extremely different – can be met by medical means.

“I don’t see this as a kind of ‘we are going to have to do this repeatedly every few months’ situation.”

What he said about the fight against Covid

Prof Whitty said “each six months will be better than the last six months” when it comes to fighting Covid-19.

He told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee: “I think what will happen is the risks will gradually decrease over time. It’s incremental, it’s not a sudden thing. But I think each six months will be better than the last six months.

“How fast that will be… it’s always dangerous to predict science.”

He added: “It’ll always be a problem, some years it will be a big problem.”

What he said about the Omicron infections wave

Prof Whitty said he anticipates the height of the Omicron wave will fall faster than previous Covid-19 peaks.

He told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee: “I think what we will see with this – and I think we are seeing it in South Africa – is that the upswing will be incredibly fast, even if people are taking more cautious actions, as they are.

“That will help slow it down, but it’s still going to be very fast.

“It’ll probably, therefore, peak really quite fast. My anticipation is that it may then come down faster than previous peaks but I wouldn’t want to say that for sure.

“I’m just saying that that is a possibility.”

What he said about Covid being prioritised over other health issues

Asked about concerns Covid-19 was being prioritised over other serious issues, the chief medical officer for England said: “I think this is sometimes said by people who have no understanding of health at all. But I don’t think it’s said by anyone who’s serious, if I’m honest. And when they say it it’s usually because they want to make a political point.

“The reality is, and if you ask any doctor working in any part of the system, they will say this, that what is threatening our ability to do cancer, what is threatening our ability to do all these things, is the fact that so much of the NHS effort, so many of the beds are having to be put over to Covid and that we’re having to work in a less efficient way because Covid is there.

“Finding a way to manage Covid in a way that minimises the impact on everything else is absolutely central to what we’re trying to do.

“In a sense, I completely agree there are multiple other things in addition to Covid. If we don’t crack Covid at the points when (we’ve) got big waves, as we have now, we do huge damage elsewhere.

“And the idea that the lockdowns caused the problems with things like cancer is a complete inversion of reality.

“If we had not had the lockdowns, the whole system would have been in deep, deep trouble and the impact on things like heart attacks and strokes, and all the other things people must still come forward for when they have them, would have been even worse than it was.”

What he said about the Omicron impact on the NHS

Prof Whitty said it is difficult to know what will happen with the NHS over the next four weeks.

He told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee: “It is possible that, with a boost, we’re better off with Omicron than we are with two vaccines with Delta for severe disease. I don’t think that’s likely for infection, but it’s possible, but we honestly don’t know.

“The range of possibilities is really quite wide and that’s why it’s very difficult to make definitive views about where the NHS is going to end up in the next four weeks.”

A version of this article originally appeared on NationalWorld.com