The rise in coronavirus cases across parts of England is putting even more strain on hospitals that find themselves under pressure as we head into the flu season.
Health bosses have voiced serious concerns that the relaxation of COVID restrictions over Christmas will lead to even more cases at the time the NHS is most stretched, with one nursing chief warning that the move could bring an “unrelenting tsunami” of cases.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said ministers should give “fresh and more detailed” advice to the public with a week to go until Christmas.
She said: “Travelling and family visits associated with this time of year will undoubtedly lead to more cases, more pressure on NHS and care services, and more deaths. By turning the second and third waves into an unrelenting tsunami, we would begin 2021 in the worst possible way.”
Boris Johnson has previously urged people to get the flu jab as part of efforts to protect the NHS during a spike in COVID cases during the winter.
Growing concerns about hospitals’ ability to cope over the winter comes amid reports that growing numbers are running short of beds and having to divert patients elsewhere and cancel operations.
A Guardian analysis found that NHS figures suggested hospitals had to tell ambulance crews to divert patients elsewhere 44 times last week – the highest number for four years.
Figures published on the government dashboard show the surge in hospital cases, including which hospitals are facing the fastest growth in COVID cases.
The graphs show a spike in hospital numbers in the East of England, where there are now more patients in hospitals than at any point during the first wave.
They also show a surge in cases in the South East and South West.
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East of England
In contrast, the graphs illustrate a drop in cases in the North East & Yorkshire as well as in the North West, which has been under some of the strictest coronavirus restrictions for up to nine months.
North East & Yorkshire
The figures come amid anger over Thursday’s tier announcements by the government, which saw just two areas brought out of Tier 3 and even more adding - meaning more than two-thirds of England’s population will be living under the strictest restrictions from Saturday.
The relaxation of coronavirus restrictions over the Christmas period come despite warnings from health bosses, while other UK nations are set to introduce even stricter rules to combat rising COVID cases.
Ministers in Northern Ireland agreed to introduce a six-week lockdown from December 26 – with the closure of non-essential retail and contact services, as well as restricting the hospitality sector to takeaway only.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford warned that “small acts of selfishness” by individuals were adding up to the problems seen in Wales, as he predicted in an interview with the BBC that other parts of the UK may need to introduce stricter restrictions after Christmas.
And in Scotland, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said tougher coronavirus restrictions after the festive period – including a potential lockdown – is a “possibility” due to a “rising tide of Covid”.
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