UK emergency Covid-19 field hospitals asked to be ‘ready’ to admit patients

A spokesperson for the National Health Service (NHS) told CNN on Saturday that those in charge of the field hospitals — hastily set up during the first wave of the pandemic but largely mothballed since — were asked on December 23 to “get services ready to use.”

The NHS has come under severe strain in recent weeks as the new variant of the virus has taken hold, particularly in southeast England — including London, Kent and Essex — and parts of Wales.

On Friday, the UK reported 53,285 new confirmed Covid-19 cases and 613 new deaths. On Thursday, it reported 55,892 new cases, the highest daily number in the country since the pandemic began.

According to the government’s latest healthcare data on January 1, there are currently 22,534 coronavirus patients in hospitals across England, of whom 1,940 patients with confirmed Covid-19 infections have required mechanical ventilation beds.

Doctors have made impassioned appeals to the public to stay at home and follow government guidelines on social distancing as hospitals and other health care services come under intense pressure.

Intensive care doctor Rupert Pearse, at the Royal London Hospital in east London, tweeted Saturday that he was working on the Covid ICU again. “Almost all my patients are less than 60 years old and previously fit. Some are very young. If you think this disease can’t touch you then think again,” he said.

In another message posted Thursday, Pearse said: “Media reports of pressures on the NHS are all true. The situation in London is now MUCH worse than the first wave, and still deteriorating. Sad to see long queues of ambulances outside the hospital where I work.”

Ambulances are parked outside the NHS Nightingale hospital at the ExCel centre in east London on January 1, 2021.

‘Record numbers’ of Covid patients

London Mayor Sadiq Khan told CNN that the capital’s hospitals were dealing with “record numbers” of Covid-19 patients on top of the normal, non-Covid winter surge in demand.

“We now have in the hospitals in London more Covid patients than at any time during this pandemic and the NHS in London, hospitals in London and our fantastic health workers in London are stretched,” Khan said Thursday.

Khan said he was “concerned” about hospitals becoming overwhelmed but added that the NHS had the flexibility to increase capacity, for example by canceling certain routine, elective surgeries.

“But the big worry we do have is, if we continue to see an increase in the virus spreading, it’s possible that hospitals won’t have the ability to cope and that’s particularly the concern because we have not yet reached the normal January, non-Covid peak,” he said.

Asked whether the military could step in to help with new patients, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Times Radio on Thursday: “Of course we stand ready to help with Nightingales if the critical pressures go beyond the capacity of the existing NHS.”

He said the Army currently had about 5,000 personnel deployed in the Covid-19 response.

A general view of social distancing signs displayed at Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill on January 2, 2021 in London, England.

Most of England is now under the toughest level of restrictions to try to limit the virus’ spread.

Amid the worsening situation, ministers were forced to reverse a decision to reopen some primary schools in London next week, after coming under pressure from local authorities and teaching unions. All schools in London will now switch to remote learning from Monday, when the new term starts, with only vulnerable and critical worker children allowed to attend in person.

The change of course came only two days after the UK Department for Education said nine London boroughs and the City of London would keep primary schools open, while those in 23 other boroughs would remain closed. Khan tweeted Friday that the government had “finally seen sense and U-turned” on its plan to open schools in some areas.

Vaccine roll-out plan

The UK government is pinning its hopes for a route out of disaster on a swift roll-out of the two vaccines now approved for use by the national regulatory agency.
But its plans to delay giving second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in order to prioritize first doses for as many vulnerable people as possible have prompted opposition from doctors’ groups.
UK chief medical officers defend delay of second Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine doses

The new strategy, announced Wednesday by the head of the UK’s medicines regulator MHRA, means that the interval between doses could be extended to up to 12 weeks, instead of the three weeks previously stipulated.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been in use in the UK since early December, when the country became the first in the world to approve it, but supplies are limited. Pfizer has said it does not have data to demonstrate that just a single dose of its vaccine would provide protection against the disease after more than 21 days.

UK regulators have also advised giving the second dose of the newly approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine four to 12 weeks later.

More than half a million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be available from Monday, according to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, with millions more to follow in the coming weeks. The vaccine is cheaper and easier to distribute than the Pfizer/BioNTech jab…

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