‘Dangerous time’ for UK, health officials warn
London – Britain is facing the worst weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, its chief medical officer said on Monday, with the health service entering a “dangerous time” as deaths and cases hit record highs while a mass vaccination programme picks up steam.
Deaths from the virus have now exceeded 81 000 in the United Kingdom – the world’s fifth-highest toll – with more than three million people testing positive. A new, more transmissible variant of the disease is surging through the population, with one in 20 people in parts of London now infected.
In a bid to get on top of the pandemic and to try to restore some degree of normality by the spring, Britain is rushing out its largest ever vaccination programme, with shots to be offered to all those in its top four priority categories – about 15 million people – by the middle of next month.
But the government’s chief medical adviser Chris Whitty warned the situation would deteriorate in the meantime.
“The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS [National Health Service],” he said.
“Anybody who is not shocked by the number of people in hospital who are seriously ill at the moment and who are dying over the course of this pandemic, I think, has not understood this at all. This is an appalling situation,” he told BBC TV.
During the peak of the first outbreak in April, about 18 000 people were in hospital but now there are 30 000, Whitty said, adding the health service was facing “a significant crisis”.
“Everybody says that this is the most dangerous time we’ve really had in terms of numbers into the NHS,” he said.
On Friday, London’s mayor said the British capital’s hospitals were in danger of being overwhelmed by COVID patients, and ministers and health chiefs have pleaded with people to respect lockdown measures and stay at home unless it was essential to go out. (Reuters)