England is hurtling towards a New Year surge of covid positive cases, thanks in large measure to the do-nothing government of Boris Johnson refusing to implement additional precautions over the Christmas period, coupled with its failure to supply enough testing kits to meet the public demand.
St George’s Hospital in Tooting has been notified to establish a Nightingale Hospital emergency “surge hub”, one of eight around the country in preparation for a wave of Omicron admissions, the NHS has said.
The temporary Nightingale units will each provide about 100 covid beds. There are also plans to identify sites for a further 4,000 beds if needed.
Record covid case numbers were reported yesterday and NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said the service was on a “war footing”.
Prof Powis said the NHS “cannot wait to find out before we act” given the number of infections and uncertainty about the severity of the Omicron variant.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he hoped the new hubs “will not have to be used”. NHS trusts have been tasked with identifying other places, such as gyms, car parks and education centres, which could be converted to accommodate up to 4,000 patients if required.
The NHS is often required to deploy extra beds over winter, but hospitalisations in England with covid have risen above 10,000 for the first time since March.
At the start of this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that there was no need for additional precautions in England to reduce the spread of the virus, suggesting only that the public should use lateral flow tests to check their covid status before heading off for New Year’s Eve parties.
Across the UK 183,037 daily cases were reported in the latest figures, with more than 900,000 cases reported over the last seven days – up 41.4 per cent on the week before.
Professor Peter Openshaw said the lack of testing availability shortly before New Year’s Eve celebrations was “very worrying indeed”.
The Imperial College immunologist told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that parties are often “absolutely perfect” conditions to transmit covid, with people crowding together in poorly ventilated spaces. And Prof Openshaw also expressed serious concern over the lack of testing kits available to the public.
The Tory Health Secretary admitted there has been “huge demand” for lateral flow tests, after his Prime Minister urged people to check their status before New Year’s Eve parties.
At times yesterday, there were no PCR or lateral flow tests available to order online.
In a letter to England’s MPs, Javid said that the supply of lateral flow tests will be tripled in January and February, from 100million to 300million per month.
The UK Health Security Agency has already raised lateral flow test deliveries from 120million to “nearly 300million” in December, he added.
Javid said there was “unprecedented” demand for both lateral flow and PCR tests, which “has inevitably placed strain on the testing system, despite the impressive scaling-up of supply, logistics and laboratory capacity. Other countries have faced similar challenges”.
Prof Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group – “Nervtag” – said he was concerned untested people could mix at parties.
“We know the situations in which transmission happens.
“But we do know that crowding together in poorly ventilated spaces, particularly if you are shouting over loud music and so on, is absolutely perfect in terms of transmitting this very, very highly transmissible virus.”
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