Experts have warned hospitals that the current number of coronavirus cases is ‘mild’ compared to what is coming next week.
President of the Royal College of Physicians Professor Andrew Goddard said the 53,285 infections figure is set to rise.
He also noted healthcare workers in Britain are ‘really worried’ about the battle against the virus over the next few months.
It comes as the majority of planned operations in London hospitals have been halted so medics can tackle the spiralling number of Covid patients.
A staggering 29 out of 39 NHS hospital trusts there have postponed elective surgery – bar cancer-related issues and emergency ones – with areas like Kent also pausing procedures.
President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England Neil Mortensen said the problems facing health centres was ‘like watching a car crash in slow motion’.
He told the Times: ‘At the same time as people returned to work, to restaurants and shops, the new more contagious variant insidiously took hold in the south and east of England.
‘Hospitals started to see the effects in mid-December, and across many parts of the country now, scheduled operations for hip or knee replacements, or ear, nose and throat operations, have had to be cancelled.
‘Thousands of people already waiting, in pain or immobile for many months, will have been sorely disappointed this Christmas to have their operation cancelled or postponed.’
A nurse also outlined the desperate situation in hospitals, with patients running out of oxygen and being left in ambulances and corridors.
Meanwhile a junior A&E doctor was left ‘heartbroken’ after being met with a crowd of maskless revellers chanting ‘Covid is a hoax’ after his New Year’s Eve shift in London.
In other Covid news:
- Pfizer and AstraZeneca rejected Government warnings of months-long vaccine supply gaps, claiming there will be enough doses to hit the ambitious targets;
- Coronavirus vaccine makers blasted the EU for being too slow to secure stocks of the jab as pressure mounts on France and Germany to speed up immunisation;
- A teaching union has called for all schools across the country to be closed for the start of the new term;
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock thanked ‘everyone playing their part’ as he revealed more than one million people have been vaccinated;
- The UK yesterday announced another 53,285 people had Covid-19, marking four days in a row that there have been more than 50,000 positive tests.
It comes as a nurse outlined the desperate situation in hospitals, with patients running out of oxygen and being left in ambulances and corridors. Pictured: The Royal London Hospital
Professor Goddard told BBC Breakfast: ‘There’s no doubt that Christmas is going to have a big impact, the new variant is also going to have a big impact.
‘We know that is more infectious, more transmissible, so I think the large numbers that we’re seeing in the South East, in London, in South Wales, is now going to be reflected over the next month, two months even, over the rest of the country.’
He added: ‘This new variant is definitely more infectious and is spreading across the whole of the country.
‘It seems very likely that we are going to see more and more cases, wherever people work in the UK, and we need to be prepared for that.’
Trusts in London which have halted planned operations are some of the largest in the UK.
They include Barts Health Trust and Imperial College Trust as well as Croydon Health Services which said it will stop elective surgery from next week.
In a sign of the growing peril facing the capital, the Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre has been ‘reactivated’ to take patients.
Yet Vice President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Adrian Boyle pointed out the field hospital was ‘useless’ if there is no staff to man it.
He told LBC: ‘The thing about the nightingale hospitals and their limitations is that you need the staff to run it’, adding without workers ‘it’s useless.’
One nurse described the ‘unbearable’ conditions in their hospital as patient numbers with the virus continue to rise.
The nurse, who works at the Whittington Hospital in north London, said patients are being left in corridors.
She said some also spend up to three hours in ambulances because of a lack of beds and one was left without oxygen when their cylinder ran out.
The nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: ‘I’m worried about patient safety because if these little things are happening now when we’re short and it’s busy, it’s only going to get worse.
‘I don’t know what else will happen – it worries me.’
The number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals is at record levels in many areas of England – including London, the South West and the Midlands – with admissions rising above the levels seen during the first wave.
And staff in some hospitals are struggling to cope. The nurse said: ‘It’s not having enough nurses to care for patients, patient safety is being affected.
‘Some are in corridors, being looked after in makeshift areas, makeshift wards have been created for Covid patients, and ICUs are running out of space.
‘Staff have got low morale – we haven’t even gotten over the first wave physically, emotionally and mentally, and now we’re having to deal with this second wave.’
The nurse described finding one Covid patient with ‘several health conditions’ who had been left on an oxygen cylinder after it had run out.
They said: ‘He thought he was receiving oxygen but the whole cylinder had run out. Because of staff shortages and because the nurses are tired, no one had checked on him.
‘He was in a room with an oxygen port on the wall but he was left on a cylinder and no one had gone back to check on him.’
They said nurses were overstretched as six beds were being put in bays that usually hold four, and having to check in on patients in other rooms that were being converted into makeshift wards.
They continued: ‘You’ve got patients in plaster rooms on hospital beds, and patients being left on oxygen in corridors and waiting to be taken back to their room.
‘Over Christmas it was so, so short, and it’s really worrying because patient safety is already being affected.’
The nurse said some patients were receiving all their treatment inside the ambulance they arrived in because there was no room for them inside the hospital.
‘One paramedic was telling me on Boxing Day they had over 500 calls waiting but he was stuck in our A&E for three hours with a patient in his ambulance,’ they said.
‘It’s these sorts of things that if they continue to happen, it makes me wonder, is somebody going to be harmed because of this?’
They said the hospital had been put on divert recently, meaning ambulances were told not take patients there because they were not able to take any more.
And while patients are being treated in ambulances outside the hospital, the paramedics are unable to go and attend to more call-outs.
With a peak expected in the coming weeks following Christmas and New Year, the nurse called for the Government to instigate a ‘complete lockdown’.
They said the public may not be adhering to Covid restrictions as stringently as before, and that it was essential for people to stay home.
‘I don’t necessarily blame the public when the messages have been so mixed from this Government,’ they said.
‘But I just want them to hear us and hear what we’re saying because it’s really unbearable.’
A spokesman from Whittington Health said: ‘Whilst we do not comment on anonymous claims, we take these allegations very seriously.
‘Like the whole NHS, Whittington Health is currently experiencing pressure as a result of a rapid increase in Covid-positive patients.
‘However, the safety of our patients remains our top priority and our staff are working tirelessly to ensure that we can continue to provide safe, effective and compassionate care to those who require it.’
Another nurse, named Naomi, who works in a London hospital, said on Twitter: ‘I literally don’t think my hospital has any more clean wards left.’
She added: ‘All of them, Covid. I’m tired man this is too emotionally draining.’
And Dave Carr, an intensive care charge nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, added to the Guardian: ‘The public needs to be aware of what’s happening.
‘This is worse than the first wave; we have more patients than we had in the first wave and these patients are as sick as they were in the first wave.
‘Obviously, we’ve got additional treatments that we can use now, but patients are still dying, and they will die.’
Dave Carr, an intensive care charge nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, said: ‘The public needs to be aware of what’s happening. ‘This is worse than the first wave; we have more patients than we had in the first wave and these patients are as sick as they were in the first wave’
Exhausted NHS staff will be looking to the vaccine rollout to stem the tsunami of hospitalisations on the way.
Pfizer and AstraZeneca have said there will be enough doses to hit the country’s ambitious targets.
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty this week warned vaccine availability issues will ‘remain the case for several months’ as firms struggle to meet demand.
The Government has pledged to give single doses of the Pfizer vaccine to as many people as they can – rather than give a second dose to those already vaccinated.
But manufacturers of both the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs have rubbished concerns, saying there is no problem with supply.
Sir Richard Sykes, who led a review of the Government’s Vaccines Taskforce in December, added he is ‘not aware’ of a shortage in supply.
Another pressing issue facing ministers is whether to keep all primary and secondary schools closed because of a Covid ‘tsunami’ in classrooms.
One teaching union called for all institutions across the country to be closed for the start of the new term.
It came after the government U-turned on its decision to keep some primaries in London open despite rising Covid cases.
Many of the London boroughs which had been told to keep primary schools open are experiencing a surge in Covid cases
Ministers bowed to protests, legal pressure and scientific advice on New Year’s Day after it initially omitted a number of the capital’s boroughs from the forced closures.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the u-turn was needed but said it was ‘perplexing’ it had got to this stage.
She questioned why the same restrictions are not being rolled out across the rest of the country and said the way the devolved powers had dealt with the mutant virus in schools had led to less chaos.
Dr Bousted also slammed the government’s ‘recklessness’ in looking out for teachers and children’s health and branded it ‘inexplicable’.
The list did not include areas where Covid rates are high such as Haringey whose leaders said they would defy the government and support schools that decided to close.
It comes after a junior A&E doctor was left ‘heartbroken’ after being met with a huge crowd of maskless revellers after his New Year’s Eve shift in London.
Dr Matthew Lee was ‘disgusted’ after a crowd – some chanting ‘Covid is a hoax’ – gathered outside St Thomas’ Hospital – where tireless doctors battled to save Boris Johnson‘s life after he contracted Covid last year.
Dr Lee, from Hong Kong, filmed the group after he finished his senior house officer (SHO) shift in the A&E department.
A junior A&E doctor was left ‘heartbroken’ after being met with a huge crowd of maskless revellers chanting ‘Covid is a hoax’ after his New Year’s Eve shift in London
Dr Lee, from Hong Kong, filmed the group (pictured) after he finished his senior house officer (SHO) shift in the A&E department
He claimed some of the people were Covid-19 conspiracy theorists as he questioned why many Britons still do not ‘realise the seriousness of this pandemic’.
Footage of the crowd emerged as a further 53,285 people in Britain were diagnosed with Covid-19 – marking four days in a row there have been more than 50,000 cases.
Dr Lee shared the clip to Twitter with the caption: ‘Worked the late A&E SHO shift on New Year’s Eve and came out to this.
‘Hundreds of maskless, drunk people in huge groups shouting ”Covid is a hoax”, literally outside the building where hundreds are sick and dying.
‘Why do people still not realise the seriousness of this pandemic?’
He later added: ‘I’m disgusted but mostly heartbroken. I wish people could see the amount of Covid-19 [cases] and deaths in hospitals, and the sacrifices that healthcare workers make.
‘This week alone has been so tough. Their ignorance is hurting others. I really wish people would keep themselves safe.’
His footage sparked outrage online, with countless Britons rushing to condemn Covid conspiracy theorists.
Piers Morgan shared Dr Lee’s clip, writing: ‘This is so disgusting. These morons shame Britain.’
Footage of the crowd (pictured) emerged as a further 53,285 people in Britain were diagnosed with Covid-19 – marking four days in a row that there have been more than 50,000 positive tests announced
Dr Lee shared the clip to Twitter with the caption: ‘Worked the late A&E SHO shift on New Year’s Eve and came out to this’
Mr Johnson spoke from self isolation on April 3 – just days before he was taken to hospital with Covid (left). He then released a video message from inside no 10, after he was discharged (right)
He later added: ‘Still seething about this. If it’s a hoax, let’s take all these imbeciles inside the Covid ward without PPE.
‘See how brave they feel when confronted with the reality of people choking to death.’
Paediatric doctor Sarah Hallett wrote: ‘And yet ironically, despite how angry and despairing this makes us as NHS staff, if any single one of them needed our help (perhaps intubation and ventilation for example), we would do it in a heartbeat.’
Another viewer added: ‘I’d love to drag them around the hospital, going from ward to ward showing them the devastation Covid is causing.
‘Maybe end the tour with a quick visit to the Morgue. Absolute fools.’
His footage sparked outrage online, with countless Britons rushing to condemn Covid conspiracy theorists
The UK’s daily case count has surged 63 per cent in a week, from 32,275 last Friday, meaning 253,720 people have received positive test results since Monday.
And 613 more people have died with the virus – including an eight-year-old child – taking the total official death toll to 74,125.
The eight-year-old died in England on December 30 and had other health problems, the NHS said.
Department of Health records show there were 23,823 people in hospital with the virus by December 28, the most recent update.
The count of fatalities has been erratic this week in the wake of a string of bank holidays, during which hospitals don’t record them as reliably.
Death records were lower than usual over the long Christmas weekend, dropping to 230 deaths on Boxing Day, then higher than expected mid-week, rising to 981 on Wednesday, December 30. The week-long average is 554 deaths per day.
Coronavirus infections have surged over the Christmas holiday with the toughest lockdown measures for most of the country held off until Boxing Day or even later, allowing thousands of families to mix on December 25.
Cases are being driven up by the new super-infectious variant of coronavirus which emerged in the South East but has since spread nationwide.
And with London, Kent and Essex now at the epicentre of England’s second wave – two thirds of yesterday’s cases (33,573) were from those three regions alone – pressure is piling onto hospitals in the area with some declaring they are already in ‘disaster mode’ even coping with admissions from a week or two ago when cases were lower.
London has once again become the centre of England’s crisis, with 15,089 of the cases confirmed yesterday diagnosed in the capital city and hospitals there reporting that their wards are bursting at the seams.
Second worst affected was the South East, where a further 10,844 cases were confirmed yesterday, followed by the East of England with 7,640.
These regions are the ones where the new variant, which may be 56 per cent more infectious and so fast-spreading that normal lockdown measures don’t work, emerged and where it now makes up a majority of infections.
Infections are significantly lower in the other regions, where the new variant does not appear to have got such a successful foothold, potentially because they were already in lockdown when it emerged.
Medics transport a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance to the Royal London Hospital yesterday
Medics are pictured collecting a patient from an ambulance at the Royal London Hospital this morning, January 1
For the North West there were 5,164 cases announced yesterday, along with 3,079 in the East Midlands, 2,860 in the West Midlands, 2,175 in Yorkshire and the Humber, 2,104 in the South West and 1,340 in the North East.
There are no signs so far that the UK’s second wave is slowing down or likely to come to an end soon.
Although the numbers of infections and hospital admissions fell during November’s national lockdown, they surged upwards again when the restrictions were lifted.
The tier system appears to have worked in the North of England, which was at the heart of the outbreak during the autumn, but it came too late to the South East, East and London, where cases surged out of control over Christmas.
Widespread rules were brought in only this week, with Tier 4 imposed on a total of 44million people by Wednesday, December 30, and the rest of the country in Tier 3 except for the remote Isles of Scilly.
It will now take two or three weeks for those measures to come into effect and – if they work – bring down transmission of the virus.
But even if the lockdown rules work and bring infection rates down, hospitals will still have to cope with the aftermath of people who have already caught Covid-19, who can take two to three weeks to be hospitalised.
Dr Megan Smith, from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust in the capital, said medics are facing ‘horrifying’ decisions as they have to choose which patients get access to lifesaving treatment for Covid-19 and which don’t.
And she warned that an expected surge in patients triggered by people mixing with family and friends over Christmas hasn’t even started yet, with the situation expected to get worse later this month and in February.
It comes as official NHS figures show that intensive care wards across the country are struggling more this winter even though an average 743 extra beds per day have been made available to try and cope with Covid patients.
NHS England data shows that, in the last week of December, there were 743 more intensive care beds available than in the same week of 2019 – 4,394 compared to 3,651.
But in the same week there were, on average, 828 more patients in critical care – 3,340 compared to 2,512 in the December 2019 – suggesting the strain of Covid-19 is bigger than hospitals had prepared for.Many of the extra beds are in London – 253 of them – but even this hasn’t been enough to stave off the surge in coronavirus patients.