Sage predicts a significant increase in hospital admissions, to roughly 3,000 a day.
However, a comparable increase has not played out in South Africa, where the outbreak started, and clinicians have reported that cases appear to be less severe.
Evidence has also emerged from South Africa suggesting that omicron patients’ period of infection is shorter than with previous variants.
Asked about the feasibility of reducing the isolation period to seven days, Prof Ferguson told Today on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday: “I think it’s always a trade-off between the effectiveness of those things and people’s adherence to them.
“I think if it could be coupled with lateral flow testing, so testing to release – and this was looked at some months ago, even a year ago in terms of these rules – all the modelling and analysis which suggests if it’s coupled with lateral flow testing, it’s not going to reduce the effectiveness of the measures that much.”
His comments chimed with those of Prof Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, who said omicron patients were most infectious in the first five days, after which infectiousness falls.
‘Some people are no longer infectious after three days and it makes no sense to keep them locked up,” he said.
“Isolating people for 10 days when they are no longer infectious will harm the economy and leave vital public services, such as the NHS, short-staffed.
“People could perhaps take a daily lateral flow test and be allowed to leave quarantine if they test negative for two days in a row.”
Meanwhile the British Chamber of Commerce has warned businesses will fail unless they are given support from the Treasury amid rising cases of the omicron variant.
Hannah Essex, the co-executive director, said: “What we need to hear pretty much now, over the weekend, which should have been one of the busiest weekends of the year for businesses, is what are they going to do.
“Doing nothing is not an option right now … or we will see businesses fail.”