The number of people in hospital with coronavirus in England is less than half what it was this time last year, despite there being three times as many reported cases, figures show.
As the government met with scientists to decide whether to impose new restrictions, the lastest hospital data showed there were 7,536 patients in hospital on December 26, compared to 18,350 on the same day last year.
The current figure has risen slightly after falling in recent weeks, and is now at around the same level as on November 1 (7,535.)
It is well below last winter’s peak on January 18 when 34,336 patients were in hospital in England, having tested positive for coronavirus.
Doctors said they were "cautiously optimistic" that no new restrictions would be needed and cases would not reach the same highs as last year, while conservative MPs urged the prime minister to to wait for more data before making a decision.
The most up-to-date daily admissions figures for London show a drop from 390 on December 23 to 278 by December 24. Across England, admissions were also down from 1,252 to 1,020 during the same time period.
Covid patient numbers in hospitals and ICUs have remained stable since November
Dr Raghib Ali, a consultant in acute medicine at Oxford University Hospitals, said that hospital and admission data was better than expected, and that the drops were unlikely to be just a Christmas effect, as no dip was seen last year.
“I think we should be cautiously optimistic and wait for the coming days’ data before bringing in new restrictions,” he told The Telegraph.
“Staff absence is a major issue, but a decreased isolation period should help. I think we can wait to see the trend in the coming days.”
The number of people needing mechanical ventilation is also holding steady in England with 758 patients on ventilators in ICU, nine fewer than a week ago.
The situation in London is more concerning, with the number of patients needing ventilation rising slightly in a week from 210 to 224.
However, figures show there are still fewer patients in hospital than at this time last year – 2,425, compared to 4,276 – and the number of people in hospital primarily for Covid has also fallen from 85 per cent in November to 75 per cent.
It means one quarter of Covid patients were admitted for another reason, but tested positive on arrival or later in their treatment.
Case numbers in England are currently around 100,000 a day compared to around 31,000 this time last year. But the soaring cases have, so far, not translated into more hospitalizations.
There could be fewer admissions due to covid
Several consultants took to social media to point out that the situation was not as bleak as first thought.
Rupert Pearse, an intensive care doctor from Queen Mary Hospital of London said he expected the case peak to be half that seen last January.
Prof Tim Spector, of King’s College London, who created the ZOE Covid symptom tracker app also said there was ‘the hint of a slowdown’ in London.
“Still looking mild with no surge in admissions to hospital yet,” he added.
Data also shows that NHS staff absences due to coronavirus in England overall are lower than last year, with 18,829 off work compared to 23,9658 at the most recent count, up to December 19.
However staff absences in London have passed last year’s levels, with 3,874 healthcare workers off compared to 2,422 last year, which will prove crucial to whether the NHS can cope.
Conservative MPs have urged caution in going beyond Plan B in England, with veteran Tory Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown calling for a "wait-and-see".
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown pictured in 2017
Sir Geoffrey said he hoped the Prime Minister would be "very cautious before introducing further measures" as he pushed for people to be able to make their own decisions on taking precautions against infection.
The treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives told Times Radio: “I think the principalities are out of step with England.
“I think they have been overly cautious, I think they are doing more damage to their economies than they need to, I think they are doing more damage to people’s liberties than they need to.
“I just don’t think the evidence, unless the data coming out today looks very different, is there for any further measures.”