Coronavirus: four key facts about the UK’s new year Covid spike
Almost 25,000 people in hospital with the virus as infections continue to climb nationwide
Pressure is growing on Boris Johnson to impose stronger coronavirus restrictions as infection rates climb to record highs across the UK.
With hospitalisations and case numbers now at what Politico London Playbook’s Alex Wickham describes as “frankly terrifying levels”, the prime minister and senior ministers are considering the introduction of a “Tier 5” or a third national lockdown to stem the spread of Covid.
The full extent of the increase in infections resulting from Christmas household mixing is not yet known, but Johnson is “facing considerable pressure from his scientific advisers, Labour and some Conservative MPs to move much more quickly”, Wickham adds. Here is a summary of the current state of play in four key facts.
Since Christmas, the UK has repeatedly broken its previous records for the numbers of new cases recorded each day, and government figures show the daily tally has stood at more than 50,000 since 31 December. Deaths within 28 days of a positive test have also risen, peaking at 964 on the final day of 2020.
“No English region is escaping the escalating crisis”, with London and the Southeast hit especially hard, says the Financial Times (FT).
In the capital, “16% of those tested on 22 December received a positive result, a proportion not seen since late April”, the newspaper continues. And data released on Sunday shows that total “has surged to 27%, a level last seen in the middle of the spring wave”.
Meanwhile, deaths from infections triggered by the relaxation of Covid rules on 25 December have yet to be recorded, due to the lag time between catching and succumbing to the virus.
Sick man of Europe
The UK’s rate of infection is “running not far off four times the case rate of other large European countries - and rising”, according to Conservative MP Neil O’Brien, chair of the party’s Policy Board.
Only Ireland is recording a rise comparable to that in the UK. O’Brien tweets that we “may be seeing the effect of the new, more infectious variant starting to spill over into Ireland, our only land border”.
While Johnson weighs up whether to plunge the UK back into lockdown, other European countries are already taking drastic action. Germany is “likely to extend a national lockdown beyond 10 January to curb coronavirus infection rates”, Reuters reports, and Emmanuel Macron is considering the imposition of a third national lockdown in France.
Increasing caseloads means increasing pressure on hospitals, with “daily admissions of Covid-19 patients now above the spring peak in the southeast, southwest and east of England”, the FT reports.
London is also “on the brink” of passing that mark, the paper adds, and “Covid patients now occupy more than half of all available beds in adult wards in several hospitals in the South”.
“There are now almost 25,000 people with Covid-19 in English hospitals - 32% more than the April peak,” Christina Pagel, director of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London, tweeted yesterday.
Underlining the extent of the crisis, NHS Providers CEO Chris Hopson tweeted that government data showed an 8% daily increase in beds occupied by Covid patients in the Northwest and London yesterday, while the Southwest saw a 7% rise.
As overloaded hospitals struggle to provide care for an ever increasing number of Covid patients, government scientists are “now talking privately about the UK’s overall Covid death toll passing the 100,000 threshold around the end of this month”, according to Politico’s Wickham.
The death toll currently stands at just over 75,000 - meaning the UK faces “a horrendous rise in a short space of time”, he adds. “Speak to anyone in Whitehall and they keep saying this is going to be an extremely tough few weeks.”