NHS England data showed hospitalisations had fallen 13 per cent across England from their peak, with the fastest drops in London, the South East and East – which entered gruelling Tier 4 measures days before Christmas.
But despite the flattening off the total number of patients rushed to hospitals every day remains ‘incredibly high’ and ‘substantially’ above the peak of the first wave, the chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said at a Downing Street press conference yesterday.
He added they were likely to remain high for weeks and only decline at a gradual pace because of the new more infectious variant of the virus, allowing it to spread more easily and infect more people.
The total number of Covid-19 patients on wards is also very high, and still 80 per cent above the peak during the first wave, while the numbers on mechanical ventilators are 30 per cent above the levels in April.
The head of the health service Sir Simon Stevens warned doctors and nurses want respite from the ‘incessant’ admissions and the ‘incredibly demanding and continuous’ year of pressure yesterday as Britain battles through the pandemic.
It comes after the UK passed the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from the virus yesterday, which scientists have blamed on a ‘litany of errors’ and ministers being ‘constantly behind the curve’ against the virus.
Department of Health statistics showed a further 1,631 deaths from the virus were recorded yesterday, taking the national tally over the grim milestone to 100,162 fatalities since the pandemic began. And Professor Whitty warned the daily toll will remain high over the next few weeks and only decline slowly.
And ministers are set to roll-out plans for travel quarantine for those arriving from certain destinations, in a bid to keep the lid on the spread of new variants of the virus.
Covid-19 hospital admissions in England. It shows the numbers have peaked but remain ‘incredibly high’. The total number of patients in hospital suffering from the disease also remains very high
Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer (left), said although admissions were flattening they remained ‘incredibly high’. Boris Johnson held a press conference last night after the UK recorded more than 100,000 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began. The NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens (right) also appeared at the conference
MINISTERS BEGIN WORK ON ROADMAP TO EASE RESTRICTIONS
Boris Johnson could unveil a roadmap out of lockdown within weeks if coronavirus cases keep easing – as ministers today insisted the government took the ‘right decisions at the right time’ despite the UK passing the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths.
The blueprint, which Tory MPs have been demanding for weeks amid fears about havoc being wreaked on the economy, is expected to be published by February 15, when ministers will review the draconian measures in force to get the mutant strain under control.
News that work on the exit strategy is under way came after Prof Chris Whitty provided a small but much needed glimmer of hope – saying he believed the UK had reached the peak of the latest wave.
The chief medic said cases were falling fast – down from 68,000 cases recorded on January 7 to just over 20,000 yesterday. The figure is the lowest it has been since December, while the vaccine rollout is gathering speed.
However, deaths are still high as they lag behind infections – with some scientists suggesting another 50,000 could fall victim before the crisis ‘burns out’.
This morning Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick defended the handling of the pandemic amid criticism that Mr Johnson acted too late to lockdown at crucial moments, stressing that there was no ‘textbook’ to dealing with the disease and ministers did ‘everything we could’ based on the knowledge they had.
But, in a round of interviews, he admitted that in ‘hindsight’ there were things that could have been done differently, and accepted there will ‘come a time’ when the government’s performance will need to be assessed.
In a blunt verdict, shadow health secretary said: ‘I don’t accept they did everything they could.’
The UK is taking stock after it was announced last night that the toll had moved into six figures, with Mr Johnson telling a Downing Street briefing that he was ‘deeply sorry for every life lost’.
NHS England data shows admissions peaked first in London, the East of England and the South East – which were all plunged into Tier 4 days before Christmas – in the week to January 9, and have been falling since.
In the capital they reached a height of 6,000 patients in week, but has now dropped by 28 per cent to 4,300 over the seven days to January 24, the latest date where figures are available.
In the East of England they hit a height of 3,351, before falling 17 per cent to 2,800, and in the South East they dropped by 28 per cent from 4,600 to 3,400.
Admissions passed their high-point in the South West – which has escaped the full force of both waves – in the week to January 15, and have since dropped by 15 per cent from 2,100 to 1,750.
And in the North West – forced to endure months of severe restrictions under the old and new tier systems – they peaked in the same week, but have since only dropped by only five per cent from 3,100 to 2,900.
The daily number of people visiting hospitals with the virus peaked in the Midlands in the week to January 20, when it hit 5,300 patients a week. They have since dropped by 10 per cent to 4,800.
And in the North East and Yorkshire NHS data suggests admissions peaked in the week to January 21 at 3,200 before falling by six per cent to 3,000.
Despite the glimmer of hope, however, the total number of people in hospital with the virus remains above the first peak in all regions except London, where it has tipped slightly below.
Professor Whitty warned last night that while admissions had ‘flattened off’ they remained at an ‘incredibly high number’ across the country.
‘We were worried two weeks ago that the measures we have at the moment were not enough to hold this new variant,’ he told the press conference.
‘I think what the data I showed you at the beginning of the slide sessions shows is that the rates are just about holding with the new variant, with what everybody’s doing.
‘It’s going to be much harder because of this new variant and I think we have to be realistic about that.’
Sir Stevens said yesterday health staff want to know if there are ‘reinforcements on the way’ amid the high numbers of admissions of patients suffering from Covid-19.
He was asked if NHS staff in England will receive a financial bonus as a gesture of support after health and social care colleagues in Scotland got a £500 payment in recognition of their work during the pandemic.
‘What people probably want right now is three things – first of all to be able to look forward to some sort of respite from what has been an incredibly demanding and continuous year of pressure.
‘Secondly to know that there are reinforcements on the way, that the staffing pressures in the health service will be taken seriously in the years to come.
‘And thirdly to tackle the pressures in the here and now which fundamentally are about reducing the number of new patients who are turning up in A&E severely ill with coronavirus day in day out. So it’s that combination I think.
‘The sense there will be some respite, the sense the health service will get resilient, staffing support it needs in the years to come, but right now we actually collectively turn off the incessant new admissions that are arriving with very severely ill coronavirus patients.’
Also asked why NHS staff in England have received no financial bonus, Boris Johnson said the health service had seen investment.
‘We do our absolute utmost to support our wonderful NHS staff and indeed have had a three-year pay package for nurses, that I think was 12.8%, and will continue to invest record sums in the NHS,’ he said.
‘I think the amount we invested in the NHS even before the pandemic began was more than any time in modern memory, £34 billion package of investment, and that will continue under this Government.’