On Tuesday the UK Government reported a record 53,135 new cases within 28 days of a positive test – the highest number since mass testing began in mid-2020 and up significantly from the previous record of 41,385 set on Monday. There were 414 new COVID-19 deaths, up from the 357 reported on Monday to take the total since the start of the pandemic to 71,567. That means Britain is now vying with Italy for Europe’s highest death toll from the disease, while also now desperately battling a new variant of coronavirus, which scientists have warned is spreading at a much quicker rate.
The latest figures from NHS England also paint a worrying picture – there were 21,787 patients in NHS hospitals in England as of 8am on Tuesday, compared with 20,426 on Monday – higher than the 18,974 patients at the first wave peak on April 12.
Five of the seven NHS regions in England – Eastern England, London, the Midlands, south-east England and south-west England – are reporting a record number of patients being treated for coronavirus in their hospitals.
The alarming spike has seen the Prime Minister call a meeting for Tuesday evening to discuss moving regions into new restrictions, including the new so-called Tier 5 and whether schools should remain shut in January after the Christmas holidays.
Ahead of an announcement on any changes to England’s tier restrictions in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned the NHS was facing “unprecedented pressures”.
He added in a tweet: “We must suppress this virus to protect our NHS & save lives until the vaccine can keep us safe.”
More than six million people through east and south-east England were hit with the highest level – Tier 4- restrictions on Saturday, meaning 24 million people or 43 percent of the country’s population have so far been impacted.
The latest announcements come following a series of warnings from senior medical specialists over the severity of the spread in coronavirus infections and resulting deaths from the pandemic.
Dr Susan Hopkins, senior medical adviser for Public Health England, said the “unprecedented levels” of Covid-19 infection across the UK was of “extreme concern”.
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NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery also echoed the warning from Professor Hayward.
When asked whether a national Tier 4 lockdown should be introduced, he told BBC Radio Five Live: “I think we need to see, yes, as much of the country as possible in Tier 4.”
There will also be eyes on announcements around whether schools open or not next month as the new strain of coronavirus sends infection rates soaring.
On Monday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said it remained the Government’s “intention” to bring pupils back into classrooms next week, following their Christmas holiday.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are confident that we will be able to get schools back in good order.
“Our plan and our timetable is there, and we are working with teachers to deliver it.”
Nervtag member Professor Neil Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme on Tuesday: “Clearly nobody wants to keep schools shut.
“But if that’s the only alternative to having exponentially growing numbers of hospitalisations, that may be required at least for a period.”