UK hospitals put on standby amid surge of Covid-19 cases

Doctor urges public to stick to social distancing or more people will die

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 03: A general view of the main entrance and security measures in place, ahead of the official opening of the NHS Nightingale Hospital at ExCel on April 3, 2020 in London, England. The field hospital will initially contain 500 beds with ventilators and oxygen and will have the capacity to eventually hold up to 4,000 COVID-19 patients. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
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Field hospitals across England have been told to get ready to admit patients as capacity is pushed to the limit by surging coronavirus cases.

The Nightingale field hospitals were set up in the early phase of the pandemic at a cost of £220 million ($300m) to prevent the health network becoming overwhelmed.

The temporary facilities have largely remained empty since their opening but hospitals have been under significant strain in recent months.

The NHS in London has been asked to make sure the flagship London Nightingale hospital at the Excel Centre is "reactivated and ready to admit patients as needed".

According to the latest figures, there are currently more than 23,000 Covid patients in UK hospitals.

"The NHS in London is opening more beds in NHS hospitals across the capital to care for the most unwell patients. It is crucial that people do everything they can to reduce transmission of the virus,” a NHS spokesman said.

“In anticipation of pressures rising from the spread of the new variant infection, NHS London was asked to ensure the London Nightingale was reactivated and ready to admit patients as needed, and that process is under way.”

On Thursday, the UK reported another 50,023 new coronavirus cases as well as 981 deaths.

Three quarters of the English population are now under the toughest tier of coronavirus restrictions as authorities race to contain the new variant of the virus.

The reopening of secondary schools across the country has also been delayed. The exam-taking years 11 and 13 will now return on January 11 while other years will be back a week later on January 18.

Defending the delay, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We’re having to take these extraordinary moves because we’re in an extraordinary situation.”

Scientists said the new variant of coronavirus spread fastest among children aged 10 to 14 during England’s November lockdown.

Prof Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at University of East Anglia, told the BBC: “All the indications are this new variant will continue to increase despite most people being in Tier 4.

“It’s going to be a very difficult few months until we get relief in spring to summer.”

Prof Hugh Montgomery, an intensive care doctor at University College Hospital in London, blamed people not sticking to social distancing for the surge in cases.

“Anyone who doesn't wear their mask – they have blood on their hands,” he told Times Radio.

“They are spreading this virus, then other people will spread it and people will die. They won't know they've killed people, but they have.”