U.K. Planning for 4,000 'Super Surge' Beds Over Fears Omicron May Overwhelm Health System

Temporary structures are being built at hospitals across Britain in preparation for a mass influx of COVID-19 patients as the highly contagious Omicron variant spurs a rise in virus cases.

Staff for the so-called "surge hubs" are aiming to organize up to 4,000 "super surge" beds for COVID patients, England's National Health Service said Thursday.

Officials are uncertain whether the hospitals will need so many extra beds, but wanted to make sure they were in place just in case.

"We do not yet know exactly how many of those who catch the virus will need hospital treatment, but given the number of infections we cannot wait to find out before we act, and so work is beginning from today to ensure these facilities are in place," Stephen Powis, the NHS England medical director, said in a statement.

Each of the "surge hubs" being erected this week at eight of Britain's hospitals will be able to treat roughly 100 patients.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have resisted enacting new coronavirus restrictions for business and social interactions over the holidays and before the new year. Instead, he is using the impacts of Omicron as a platform to push residents to take advantage of Britain's COVID vaccine and booster program.

Ahead of New Year's Eve and anticipated festivities despite the surge, Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned residents to "remain cautious" and celebrate outside when possible, BBC reported.

Britain Temporary Hospital
Temporary structures are being built at hospitals across Britain in preparation for a mass influx of COVID-19 patients as the highly contagious Omicron variant spurs a rise in virus cases. Above, a temporary field hospital is built on the grounds of St George's Hospital in Tooting, south London on December 30, 2021. Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

The U.K. reported a record 183,037 confirmed new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, 32 percent more than the previous day.

While early data suggests Omicron is less likely to cause serious illness than earlier variants, public health officials think the sheer number of infections could lead to a jump in hospitalizations and deaths.

The number of people in England hospitalized with COVID-19 increased to 10,462 on Wednesday from 7,366 on December 24, government figures show. Wednesday's number was the highest since March 1. The figure is still well below the peak of 34,336 recorded on Jan. 18.

Mass vaccination centers at sports stadiums and museums have reopened after research showed that two doses of the vaccine weren't enough to protect against Omicron.

Across the U.K., almost 58 percent of people ages 12 and over has received booster shots, including 325,087 who received a third dose on Tuesday, according to the latest government data.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

NHS Surge Hub
Each of the "surge hubs" being erected this week at eight of Britain's hospitals will be able to treat roughly 100 patients. Above, a member of a construction team works on the erection of a temporary field hospital on the grounds of St George's Hospital in Tooting, south London on December 30, 2021. Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images