HEALTH chiefs have called for Covid restrictions – such as masks and mixing limits – to be brought back as hospital patient numbers rise.
The increase in people going onto wards with the virus follows on from a rise in infections last month.
Covid patients numbers have risen in recent weeks with health chiefs calling for restrictions to be brought back inCredit: i-Images
This was sparked by both the emergence of BA.2 – Omicron’s subvariant which can spread even faster and get around vaccines – and people mixing more freely.
The latest Office for National Statistics figures show one in 13 people in England are infected with Covid, after hitting a record high.
Sajid Javid said this was to be expected after restrictions were lifted, and the Government isn’t concerned due to Omicron causing a milder illness.
But the NHS Confederation has urged for “mitigating actions” – limits on indoor mixing and masks in crowded spaces – to be brought back in to stem the spread of the virus.
They have warned Easter could be “as bad as any winter” for the NHS without the Government stepping in – but ministers are reluctant to bring back measures and hamper Brits again.
It is all part of Boris Johnson’s plan to learn to live with Covid, with the rise being monitored but not a huge concern, they say.
The lack of panic from No 10 is due to a number of reports the latest strain doesn’t cause any more severe illness, but also because official statistics show infections have already started to drop.
Although the PM refused to rule out any new lockdowns on Friday, if a more dangerous variant emerged.
Vaccines are the best line of defence, health bosses say, with a new study showing symptoms in the triple jabbed last on average half as long as a common cold.
Spring boosters are being dished out for certain groups in society, to keep their immunity high.
But a rise in infections does mean, although the majority will recover from the virus at home, the number of the more vulnerable needing hospital treatment will rise.
NHS Medical Director Stephen Powis said: “Alongside increasing numbers of Covid and emergency patients and with 94 per cent of beds now occupied, they are also dealing with the highest number of staff off sick due to the virus for 10 weeks – an average of 28,500 staff each day.
“Our frontline staff are working closely together with social care providers to ensure patients leave hospital as soon as they are fit to do so, and hospitals have increased bed numbers and created extra capacity in line with increasing pressure.”
Within the seven days up to April 4, 16,407 Covid patients were admitted to hospital, with 20,331 still on wards by April 7.
Staff are also off sick in large numbers, with some Trusts forced to tell people to stay away from A&E and ambulance handovers being delayed.
However, compared to Christmas and the start of the year, the number of people on ventilators battling the bug is still low.
Many people in hospital with the virus will also have come in to be treated for a different issue, and then tested positive as a secondary event.
But Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the confederation, told The Times: “The brutal reality for staff and patients is that this Easter is as bad as any winter.
“But instead of the understanding and support NHS staff received during 2020 and 2021, we have a government that seems to want to wash its hands of responsibility for what is occurring in plain sight up and down the country.
“No 10 has seemingly abandoned any interest in Covid whatsoever . . . It is now unclear that anyone in the centre of government feels the unfolding NHS crisis is their responsibility. NHS leaders and their teams feel abandoned and they deserve better.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told BBC Breakfast last week: “Our level of concern hasn’t changed and that’s because although case numbers are rising, infections are rising and indeed hospital numbers are rising, they are still way below their peak.
“And it’s also important for us when we review this, understand why they are rising and that is primarily due to the increased social mixing we’re seeing after the country’s opened up, but also the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron which we know is on the one hand more infectious but, on the other hand, we know that our vaccines work just as well against this sub-variant.”
It comes after the PM downplayed the chances of imposing new lockdowns, but said: “It would be irresponsible of any leader in any democracy to rule out something that saves lives.”
Free tests have now ended for the majority of people in England, with Brits being asked to be responsible with any illness that pops up.
Only the vulnerable, including those in high-risk jobs and with health conditions, will be eligible to pick up swabs without paying.
Everyone else in England now has to pay around £1 for a single swab or a tenner for a pack, to check if they have the virus.
Professor Steven Riley, Director General of Data, Analytics and Surveillance at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: “If you have any symptoms of a respiratory infection such as a high temperature, try to stay at home or away from other people – especially those who you know are vulnerable.
“While people will be looking forward to catching up with friends and family over the Easter period, it’s important to keep indoor spaces well ventilated, wash your hands regularly and wear a face-covering in crowded, enclosed spaces or when visiting people at highest risk of severe illness with Covid.”
Covid isolation rules have now changed, too. Confirmed cases are advised to stay at home for five days, when they are most infectious.
Those needing to leave home should avoid close contact with vulnerable people, wear a face mask and avoid crowded spaces, such as rush hour trains.
Guidance states Brits with Covid symptoms, including a cough or fever, should remain indoors until they feel better.
Parents are advised to keep their child at home, and out of contact with other people, until they are no longer unwell and do not have a high temperature.
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