THERE has been a big rise in the number of cases of the Omicron Covid variant found in Herefordshire, latest figures show.

Government data published on Friday showed 140 confirmed Omicron cases had been found in Herefordshire up to December 22.

That is up from just six the previous week.

Last Friday, the Government said it was like there were 86 people who were thought to have the new Covid variant, but it could take up to 14 days for it to be confirmed.

It has been four weeks since the first Omicron Covid case was found in Herefordshire, and in that same period, a total of 3,083 cases had been found.

The latest figures show the number of people testing positive for the virus in Herefordshire is rising.

Some 850 have tested positive for Covid in the last seven days, 101 more than the week before.

Interim director of public health for Herefordshire Council Dr Rebecca Howell-Jones said earlier this month that the Omicron cases were not surprising and numbers were expected to rise.

"As the government has announced, Omicron cases of Covid-19 are expected to rise rapidly across the country," she said.

"While it may seem alarming that suspected cases have been reported in Herefordshire, this is not surprising. We expect to see a rise in both suspected and confirmed cases in the coming days.

"We would like to remind all residents to take precautions – please do book your Covid booster vaccination ASAP if you are eligible. Regular LFD (lateral flow device) testing will help protect your family and friends, and the 'hands, face, space and ventilation' measures are ways to help limit the spread."

New data suggesting Omicron may be less likely to lead to serious illness than the Delta variant of coronavirus offers a “glimmer of Christmas hope”, a senior health official has said.

But UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief executive Dr Jenny Harries warned that it is too early to downgrade the threat from the new strain, which is still spreading rapidly across the UK.

Dr Harries told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that more information is needed, particularly about the impact on elderly and more vulnerable patients.

She added: “There is a glimmer of Christmas hope in the findings that we published yesterday, but it definitely isn’t yet at the point where we could downgrade that serious threat.”

The UKHSA estimates that someone with Omicron is between 31 per cent and 45 per cent less likely to attend A&E and 50 per cent to 70 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital than an individual with the Delta variant.

The rapid spread of Omicron has seen it become the “dominant strain now right across the UK”, and Dr Harries said cases are still doubling across “most regions” of the country.

She added: “What we have got now is a really fine balance between something that looks like a lower risk of hospitalisation – which is great news – but equally a highly transmissible variant and one that we know evades some of our immune defences, so it is a very balanced position.”

The UKHSA data has fuelled speculation in Westminster that further restrictions can be avoided in England after Christmas.

In Scotland, nightclubs will close for at least three weeks from December 27 as part of a package of measures to control the spread of the virus, while clubs in Wales and Northern Ireland will close from Boxing Day.

But in England the Government may choose to issue new guidance on limiting contacts rather than risk another damaging Tory rebellion by recalling Parliament to impose new rules.

The health agency’s analysis came as the UK experienced yet another record-breaking number of daily reported Covid cases, with 119,789 reported as of 9am on Thursday.

This was the second day in the whole of the pandemic that daily lab-confirmed case rates were above 100,000, after Wednesday.

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid has warned that Omicron still has the potential to overwhelm the NHS despite the “promising” data because it is more infectious than past variants.