Vaccines have reduced tidal waves of coronavirus deaths to a ripple even as cases have surged, analysis reveals.
Covid hospital patients are typically younger, less sick and being discharged faster than in previous waves, as the elderly reap the benefits of getting their jabs sooner.
People are now much less likely to be infected, end up in hospital, need a ventilator or die. And there was more cause for optimism last night as Department of Health figures showed daily infections dropping to the lowest level for ten days.
Yesterday another 36,389 cases were recorded – down nearly one third from the 51,870 reported last Friday. Britain has now recorded a week-on-week drop in cases for two days in a row – the first time this has happened since early May.
The Daily Mail audit – based on Government data – compared key indicators from the current wave with those last autumn and winter. The first wave of the pandemic in spring last year has been excluded because there was so little testing.
The graph shows the number of deaths during three waves of the pandemic, with the blue line indicating the current wave, the yellow line showing the autumn wave beginning August 5 and the red line showing the winter wave starting November 29
Our analysis reveals:
- During the winter wave, when daily cases were averaging what they are now, there were almost 27 times more Covid deaths each day and nine times more people in hospital;
- There are currently 125 patients on a ventilator for every 10,000 daily new infections, compared with 2,312 per 10,000 cases at the same point in the previous wave;
- People aged 54 and under account for 60 per cent of virus patients admitted to hospital in England during this wave, compared with just 22 per cent during the winter wave;
- Some 87.6 per cent of people have now received at least one dose of the vaccine, up from 28.9 per cent at the same time point in the winter wave.
NHS doctors say the impact of the hugely successful vaccination effort is clear on hospital wards.
It means more staff are free to tackle the record backlog of routine surgery, including hip and knee replacements, which was severely disrupted last year.
Dr Kevin O’Kane, a consultant in acute medicine at a large hospital in central London, described ‘almost apocalyptic’ scenes that filled him with fear at the start of the pandemic. ‘I have never seen so many sick people in such a short space of time suffering in the same way,’ he said.
The graph shows the number of patients admitted to hospital per 10,000 Covid-19 cases across the last three waves of the pandemic
But the 58-year-old, a doctor for more three decades, said: ‘Now we are in a very different position. The message is: the vaccination works.
‘With the patients admitted, the vast majority will not have severe illness and won’t go into intensive care. The demographic is different.
‘The youngest person we have had is 22. Then we have people in their 40s and 50s rather than the very old people we saw in previous waves. We had six pregnant ladies a couple of weeks ago. It’s a whole new ball game.’ The seven-day average for daily Covid infections earlier this week was 46,024, with 711 hospital admissions, 567 patients on ventilators and 42 deaths.
But during the winter wave, when infections were at a similar level of 46,231 on January 17, the seven-day average for deaths was 1,119 – 27 times higher than now. And there were 37,561 Covid patients in hospitals – nine times as many.
Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians and a consultant gastroenterologist at Royal Derby Hospital, said: ‘We are nowhere near as bad as in previous waves. Then everything felt very Covid-focussed – a lot of Covid wards had people requiring ventilators. Now it feels busy with the other stuff you would see in a very busy winter. I speak to respiratory physicians around the country. They are seeing younger people, not the type of patients in previous waves.
‘The length of stay seems to be coming down. The average length of stay is down from ten days to around seven or eight. Those two days might not sound like much but it frees up 9,000 bed days and that’s a huge number.’ While the outlook is very different from previous waves, medical experts warn hospitals could yet be overwhelmed – with a ‘horrendously busy’ few months feared.
During the current wave, the number of daily ventilated patients per 10,000 Covid-19 cases in declining, while it was rising rapidly during the winter wave
Yesterday 870 patients were admitted to hospital, the highest daily figure since February 25. But deaths remain extremely low compared to previous waves, with 64 recorded yesterday. Vaccines have played a role in protecting people from the worst effects of the virus.
But doctors have also learned which drugs work best and how to treat patients to give them the greatest chances of survival.
People aged 75 and over account for 19 per cent of patients admitted to hospital with Covid in England during the current wave, which has so far lasted just over two months.
At the same time in the winter wave, this age group had made up 44 per cent of all virus patients. In contrast, people aged 54 and younger accounted for 22 per cent of Covid admissions by this stage of the winter wave but they now account for 60 per cent.
The number of beds occupied in hospital per 10,000 Covid-19 cases is also on the decline during the current wave, while it was rising in the winter
Professor Dame Clare Gerada, former chairman of the Royal College of GPs and a leading clinician, said: ‘We are not seeing the level of deaths we have previously. Some young people tragically will die but the rate of death in comparison to the numbers of infections we are getting is tiny. In a bad winter we have 60 to 100 deaths per day from flu, so current rates are on par with that.’ Currently, for every 10,000 new coronavirus cases there are around 125 patients on a ventilator and nine deaths. At the same time period in the winter wave, there were 2,312 patients on a ventilator and 509 deaths for every 10,000 new infections.
Akshay Akulwar, a clinical fellow at a large hospital Trust in Essex and a spokesman for Doctors’ Association UK, said: ‘The number of Covid cases is almost the same as January but we are not seeing the same level of hospitalisation and deaths and intensive care admissions. We are busy, as the number of A&E admissions is on average up 10 to 12 per cent across most sizeable hospitals.
‘We are seeing patients with Covid but also seeing patients who have not been able to go and see their GP. People with debilitating conditions are trying to bypass their GP and see us.’
Yesterday’s infection figures from the Department of Health suggest the relentless rise in infections over the past two months, driven by the Indian variant, is levelling off.
There are far smaller percentage of over 75s hospitalised now than in the winter wave, with a larger percentage of 18-54 year olds being admitted