Hopes all over-50s can be vaccinated by spring to save UK


All Britons over the age of 50 could be vaccinated by spring, the head of the NHS has claimed, adding that medics are ‘in the eye of the storm’ as hospitalisations and cases pass first wave peaks.

NHS England data shows 20,426 hospital beds were occupied by patients who had tested positive for coronavirus as of 8am yesterday morning, up from around 17,700 exactly a week ago. 

And the UK recorded 41,385 cases of Covid yesterday, in the largest one-day increase since the pandemic began.

Hospital bosses have begged the public not to party on New Year, with fears of any gatherings leading to another surge in infections.

NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens has described 2020 as the ‘toughest year’ the health service had ever faced – but also shared optimism that the situation would improve by spring, with 22 million Britons potentially vaccinated. 

He said: ‘Many of us will have lost family, friends, colleagues and, at a time of year when we would normally be celebrating, a lot of people are understandably feeling anxious, frustrated and tired.

‘And now, again, we are back in the eye of the storm with a second wave of coronavirus sweeping Europe and, indeed, this country.’

Speaking at an NHS vaccination centre, he added: ‘We think that by late spring with vaccine supplies continuing to come on stream, we will have been able to offer all vulnerable people across this country Covid vaccination. That perhaps provides the biggest chink of hope for the year ahead.’

Everyone over the age of 50 is covered by the ‘vulnerable’ category mentioned by Sir Simon and set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. 

Under committee guidance, the first vaccine supplies will be sent to care home staff and residents, NHS frontline workers and Britons aged 80 and over. The rest of the priority list are people aged between 50 and 80, as well as extremely vulnerable individuals who have been shielding during the pandemic, and all people aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions.

But the current vaccination target will have to be doubled to two million jabs a week to avoid a third wave of the virus, according to a projection from a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine paper reported by the Telegraph.

Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), described the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as a ‘game changer’ but warned ‘herd immunity’ through vaccination would not be likely until the summer.

The vaccine developed by Oxford and Astra-Zeneca is expected to be approved as early as Wednesday.  

It came as the UK reported record-high daily Covid-19 infection levels, with 41,385 cases recorded yesterday, as well as 357 more deaths. 

NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens shared his optimism that everyone over-50 in the ‘vulnerable’ group, numbering some 22 million people, could be vaccinated by spring

The vaccine developed by Oxford and Astra-Zeneca is expected to be approved as early as Wednesday and has been described as a 'game changer'

The vaccine developed by Oxford and Astra-Zeneca is expected to be approved as early as Wednesday and has been described as a ‘game changer’

Department of Health statistics show 18,227 Covid-infected patients were being cared for in hospitals across the nation on Christmas Eve - a 15 per cent rise in a week. Top officials say the highly infectious strain spreading rapidly across the country is to blame. For comparison, April 12 was the busiest day of the pandemic so far for hospitals in England, when 18,974 patients were occupying beds

Department of Health statistics show 18,227 Covid-infected patients were being cared for in hospitals across the nation on Christmas Eve – a 15 per cent rise in a week. Top officials say the highly infectious strain spreading rapidly across the country is to blame. For comparison, April 12 was the busiest day of the pandemic so far for hospitals in England, when 18,974 patients were occupying beds

Hospitals in England ‘on track’ to have 20,000 Covid patients by New Year’s Eve 

Hospitals in England are hurtling towards having 20,000 coronavirus patients who need NHS treatment on New Year’s Eve, according to dire projections that will bolster calls for No10 to introduce another draconian lockdown in 2021.

Department of Health statistics show 18,227 Covid-infected patients were being cared for in hospitals across the nation on Christmas Eve – a 15 per cent rise in a week. Top officials say a highly infectious strain spreading rapidly across the country is to blame.  

For comparison, April 12 was the busiest day of the pandemic so far for hospitals in England, when 18,974 patients were occupying beds.

The Health Service Journal, a trade publication aimed at health bosses, has calculated that the number of Covid patients is rising by around 250 each day, meaning NHS England is ‘on course to exceed the first wave in the next few days and, possibly, top 20,000 on New Year’s Eve’. 

Doctors fear the NHS could be ‘overwhelmed’ within days, with frontline medics in London describing hospitals as resembling war zones. And in chaotic scenes reminiscent of the darkest days of the first wave of Covid, hospitals in England have been urged to free up every possible bed ahead of the expected spike in patients.

Health bosses today insisted health service would ‘cope’ with the surge in patients, which will inevitably begin to ease over the next fortnight when the effects of the brutal Tier Four restrictions kick in.  

This is the first time cases have officially passed 40,000 in a day. Infection levels are thought to have been far higher in April, but testing capacity was much lower.

NHS England said the number of patients in hospital with coronavirus was 20,426 – higher than the previous peak of 19,000 in April. Some health trusts are reporting up to three times the number of Covid patients compared to the peak of the first wave, with admissions rising fastest in areas where the more infectious new strain of the virus is prevalent.

Meanwhile, about 10 per cent of NHS staff are currently off work – either through sickness or having to self-isolate – further increasing pressure on their colleagues during the winter period, when demand on the health service is always higher. 

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said the rising Covid levels were of concern and she encouraged people to continue social distancing.

She said: ‘This very high level of infection is of growing concern at a time when our hospitals are at their most vulnerable, with new admissions rising in many regions.’

Deaths have also begun to rise in some parts, with the running seven-day total rising to 2,227 on December 23, up from 1,975 on December 11.

In London, deaths rose by 107 to 363 for this period, an increase of 42 per cent, according to analysis by the Health Service Journal.

The East of England region similarly saw deaths increase by 43 per cent, while the South East has seen an increase of 18 per cent, the latest NHS figures show.

The bleak picture was not echoed nationwide, with the average falling by between 3 and 8 per cent in the other regions, which also have lower reported infection levels.

The additional strain caused by surging coronavirus cases has led several London hospitals to declare major incidents, including one at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, south-east London, over a possible shortage of oxygen supplies.

London Ambulance Service described Boxing Day as one of its ‘busiest ever days’, with 7,918 callouts – up more than 2,500 on the 5,217 received on the same day last year. It remained busier than usual on Sunday, with 7,111 calls, compared with 5,411 on December 27 last year. Dr Nick Scriven, the former president of the Society of Acute Medicine, said the rising cases were ‘extremely worrying’.

He warned it was not ‘just the case’ of using the temporary Nightingale hospitals to treat Covid patients because there were not enough staff for them to be run as they were originally intended.

In future, they may play a role in rehabilitation of those recovering from the disease, he said, adding: ‘The current situation is extremely worrying as the numbers of Covid patients are increasing rapidly at the time of year when things are always ‘tight’. ‘With the numbers approaching the peaks from April, systems will again be stretched to the limit.’

Hospitals in Wales and Scotland say they are also at risk of becoming overwhelmed.

More than six million people in East and South-East England went into the highest Tier Four level of Covid restrictions on Saturday.

It means 24 million people – or 43 per cent of the population – are effectively in lockdown again, with hopes resting on the approval of the Oxford vaccine, expected in days.

So far, about 600,000 people in the UK have been given a first dose of the Pfizer jab. Officials hope to vaccinate a million people a week when the less logistically challenging Oxford vaccine is cleared for use by the MHRA medicines watchdog.

An outbreak of cases at Manchester City Football Club led to their game against Everton being called off just hours before kick-off yesterday.

It comes after it emerged that Britain could be put into ‘Tier 5’ restrictions.

Scientists have now advised Boris Johnson to implement measures stronger than those imposed in November, including the closure of secondary schools, pubs and non-essential shops.

Though it is unclear if the new measures will be called ‘Tier 5’, SAGE is thought to have told the Prime Minister they must be tougher than the current Tier 4 restrictions. 

Experts warned the number of Covid patients in NHS hospitals on England was ‘on course to exceed the first wave in the next few days and, possibly, top 20,000 on New Year’s Eve’.

But the official figures show the grim milestone has been met three days ahead of expectations. Top officials say a highly infectious strain spreading rapidly across the country is to blame for piling extra pressure on hospitals which Public Health England bosses warn are ‘at their most vulnerable’.

For comparison, April 12 was the busiest day of the first wave for hospitals in England, when 18,974 infected patients were occupying beds.

The crisis has already hit one hospital, with a Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust spokesperson saying today: ‘We declared an internal incident at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) on Sunday 27 December as a precautionary step due to the high number of Covid-positive patients we are seeing at the hospital.’  

Top scientists estimate up to 100,000 people were catching the disease every day during the darkest days of the spring.

Government statistics also show today’s death count – which takes the UK’s overall number of lab-confirmed Covid victims past 71,000 – is up 66 per cent on last week’s. 

But coronavirus death tolls on Mondays – and following bank holidays – are always affected because of a recording lag, meaning the counts will inevitably spike later in the week. Scotland has also not posted their daily coronavirus deaths since Christmas Eve, suggesting there may be an anomaly tomorrow when officials eventually get back-on-track with publishing the data following the festive period. 

Today’s record-high number of cases are also likely to have been skewed upwards by recording hiccups over the Christmas break, with some of the home nations not declaring any new infections in the past few days – meaning they would be pushed onto tallies released today or even later this week. 

Public Health England’s medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle said: ‘We have all made huge sacrifices this year but we must all continue to play our part in stopping the spread of the virus which is still replicating fast.’ She warned that the figure is of ‘growing concern’ because ‘hospitals are at their most vulnerable’.

The effects of Tier Four, which came into force last week for 16million people across London, the South East and the East, should start to be seen within the next few days, with cases likely to drop sharply in areas plunged into the harshest restrictions. But deaths won’t follow suit for at least another fortnight because of how long it can take infected patients to succumb to the illness.

And some infectious disease experts fear cases will start to rise as a result of the Christmas break on coronavirus restrictions, which allowed millions to spend the day with loved ones they don’t live with.

Hospitals are also beginning to feel the brunt of the growing outbreak, according to official figures, with experts warning the NHS in England on track to have 20,000 coronavirus patients who need NHS treatment on New Year’s Eve.

Department of Health statistics show 18,227 Covid-infected patients were being cared for in hospitals across the nation on Christmas Eve – a 15 per cent rise in a week. April 12 was the busiest day of the Covid pandemic so far for hospitals in England, when 18,974 patients were occupying beds. 

Separate figures laying bare the true scale of the second wave show more than 90 per cent of councils in England saw their coronavirus outbreaks grow before Christmas.

Around 24million people are already living under draconian stay-at-home orders, with ministers slapping the Tier Four measures on London, the South East and East to control rapidly growing Covid outbreaks. But millions more face being hit with the toughest curbs when officials review the existing four-tier system on Wednesday. 

Tier Two Cumbria is one area that could find itself in the firing line, with three of the county’s six boroughs seeing their Covid infection rate – the number of new cases per 100,000 people – double in size during the week ending December 22.

Department of Health statistics show Eden, home to around 50,000 people, had a rate of 422.5 during the most recent week data is available for – up from 200.9 in the previous seven-day spell. It stood at 41.3 at the start of the month.

It means the borough, which includes Penrith, recorded more confirmed Covid cases for the size of its population than several councils already placed under Tier Four, including parts of Surrey, Berkshire and Oxfordshire.

Allerdale (163.7) and Copeland (64.5) also saw outbreaks double in size over the same time-frame. However, the latter Cumbrian borough still has England’s lowest coronavirus infection rate. 

And Barrow-in-Furness – another part of the county – was one of just 27 areas that recorded fewer cases week-on-week. England’s 288 other boroughs saw their outbreaks stay stable or grow, with 35 authorities seeing infections double over the same duration.

Local health bosses fear the rapid growth in cases across parts of the county, which borders Scotland, is being driven by the same coronavirus mutation that spread rapidly across the Home Counties.

No10’s top scientists have already admitted they cannot control the spread of a highly-contagious mutation that spread like wildfire across the south and effectively cancelled Christmas for a third of the country. 

The total number of patients in hospital with the virus is likely to exceed the peak from the first wave, with 21,286 coronavirus patients being treated on December 22 - the most recent day data is available for. In comparison, the figure on April 12 was 21,683

The total number of patients in hospital with the virus is likely to exceed the peak from the first wave, with 21,286 coronavirus patients being treated on December 22 – the most recent day data is available for. In comparison, the figure on April 12 was 21,683

Millions more Britons face being plunged into Tier 4 this week as the mutant Covid-19 strain continues to spread across the country

Millions more Britons face being plunged into Tier 4 this week as the mutant Covid-19 strain continues to spread across the country 

Parents’ fury at SAGE demands that ALL pupils are kept home until February in new national lockdown

SAGE scientists have urged Boris Johnson to impose an even tougher third national lockdown including keeping all schools closed throughout January to curb the new mutant coronavirus strain – consigning millions of children to sub-standard online classes for at least a month, it was revealed today.

Michael Gove said today that only children in years 11 and 13, and those with key worker parents, will go to school from Monday – with only primary schools expected to open as usual.

But he has also sparked fears that secondary schools could remain closed for longer than a week after admitting the plan to reopen them all on January 11 is already ‘under review’ amid rumours that students in Tier 4 could be at home until the mid-February half-term.

Opening the door to longer closures, Mr Gove said: ‘We do keep things under review and we will be talking to head teachers and teachers in the next 24 and 48 hours just to make sure that our plans which of course are accompanied by community testing are right and robust. It is our intention to make sure we can get children back to school as early as possible. But we all know that there are trade-offs.’

The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is set to start crunch talks with headteachers and unions today about reopening schools in January, after a meeting with Downing Street this afternoon.

The Government has bowed to pressure from teachers and unions who demanded that secondary school children should be taught online after the Christmas holidays to allow coronavirus testing to take place and for teachers to be vaccinated. 

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said today that the reopening of schools in England should be delayed by at least a fortnight.

Pressure has also been growing on Boris Johnson from within his own party to keep all pupils in school at the start the new term – but the PM has sided with SAGE scientists, who are pushing for schools, especially secondary schools to close for all of January, at least, because of the new super-strain of Covid-19, according to Politico.

Mr Johnson was reportedly told last week by SAGE, led by Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance, that a stricter lockdown is required because the one in November, where schools remained open, did not keep the ‘R’ rate below 1, an adviser has claimed. Sage wants all schools, but ideally secondaries, shut for a month while keeping pubs and all non-essential shops closed.

But one Tory backbencher told the Telegraph: ‘The view of most Tory MPs is that schools do need to stay open. We know that schools being open does increase the R rate. The question is, is that a price we are willing to pay and in my view it should be. Frankly, children don’t get harmed so why on earth should we punish them?’ 

Tory MP Robert Halfon, education select committee chairman, said: ‘The Government’s got to do everything possible not to close schools.’ He said school closures risked ‘damaging the life chances of our next generation’.

Many parents have slammed the standard and frequency of online classes for the millions of children forced to stay at home during 2020, while critics have said that by agreeing to shut schools it will now make it increasingly difficult for No 10 to reopen them again. 

Michael Gove yesterday refused to rule out the gloomy prospect of No10 placing all of England into Tier Four, which effectively bans residents from leaving their home.

The Cabinet Office minister told BBC Breakfast: ‘We review which tiers parts of the country should be in on the basis of scientific evidence.

‘The Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) will be making a recommendation to ministers, but I can’t pre-empt that because it obviously has to be a judgment based on the medical situation.’

But he warned the NHS is ‘under pressure’ and added ‘these are difficult months ahead’.

Mr Gove’s comments come amid fears hospitals in England are hurtling towards having 20,000 coronavirus patients needing treatment on New Year’s Eve.

Department of Health statistics show 18,227 Covid-infected patients were being cared for in hospitals across the nation on Christmas Eve – a 15 per cent rise in a week. Top officials say the highly infectious strain spreading rapidly across the country is to blame.

For comparison, April 12 was the busiest day of the pandemic so far for hospitals in England, when 18,974 patients were occupying beds.

The Health Service Journal, a trade publication aimed at health bosses, has calculated that the number of Covid patients is rising by around 250 each day, meaning NHS England is ‘on course to exceed the first wave in the next few days and, possibly, top 20,000 on New Year’s Eve’.

Doctors fear the NHS could be ‘overwhelmed’ within days, with frontline medics in London describing hospitals as resembling war zones.

And in chaotic scenes reminiscent of the darkest days of the first wave of Covid, hospitals in England have been urged to free up every possible bed ahead of the expected spike in patients.

Health bosses today insisted health service would ‘cope’ with the surge in patients, which will inevitably begin to ease over the next fortnight when the effects of the brutal Tier Four restrictions kick in.

But Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, conceded there would be a ‘cost’ to pay, hinting that non-urgent treatment will have to be sacrificed once again. 

Thousands of patients were turfed out of hospital beds in the first wave to make room for an expected explosion in Covid admissions, which has left patients facing a huge backlog in getting their cancelled or postponed treatment.

NHS England data shows hospitals are still quieter than they were last winter, with just 88.6 per cent of available beds occupied in the week ending December 20, on average. 

But health chiefs say the statistics don’t reveal the extra strain posed by Covid, which has led to segregated wards, medics constantly using PPE and staff having to self-isolate. A lack of staff mean most of the Government’s mothballed Nightingale hospitals – built to give the NHS extra breathing room – are lying empty.

In other developments yesterday , it was revealed that SAGE scientists have urged Boris Johnson to impose an even tougher third national lockdown including keeping all schools closed throughout January to curb the new mutant coronavirus strain – consigning millions of children to sub-standard online classes for at least a month.

Michael Gove said that only children in years 11 and 13, and those with key worker parents, will go to school from Monday – with only primary schools expected to open as usual.

But he has also sparked fears that secondary schools could remain closed for longer than a week after admitting the plan to reopen them all on January 11 is already ‘under review’ amid rumours that students in Tier Four could be at home until the mid-February half-term.

Opening the door to longer closures, Mr Gove said: ‘We do keep things under review and we will be talking to head teachers and teachers in the next 24 and 48 hours just to make sure that our plans which of course are accompanied by community testing are right and robust. It is our intention to make sure we can get children back to school as early as possible. But we all know that there are trade-offs’. 

The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is set to start crunch talks with headteachers and unions today about reopening schools in January, after a meeting with Downing Street this afternoon.

The Government has bowed to pressure from teachers and unions who demanded that secondary school children should be taught online after the Christmas holidays to allow coronavirus testing to take place and for teachers to be vaccinated.  

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