UK facing COVID-19 'catastrophe' as hospitals near capacity
A care home worker receives the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the vaccination hub at Croydon University Hospital, south London. /Dan Charity/Pool via AP

A care home worker receives the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the vaccination hub at Croydon University Hospital, south London. /Dan Charity/Pool via AP

There are now more patients in hospital in England with COVID-19 than there were during the last peak in April.

The CEO of the UK's National Health Service (NHS), Simon Stevens, says healthcare workers are "back in the eye of the storm" and some hospitals' intensive care units are close to capacity.

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

More than 20,000 people are in hospital now being treated for COVID-19, 5,000 of them in London. On Tuesday, a total of more than 53,000 cases were reported, a new daily record for the UK.

Andrew Hayward, from the UK government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group warned on BBC radio: "I think we are entering a dangerous phase of the pandemic and we are going to need early, decisive national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February.

"A 50 percent increase in transmissibility means that the previous levels of restrictions that worked before won't work now. So Tier 4 is necessary or even higher." 

Hayward added: "I think we are looking at a situation where we are moving into near-lockdown."



At an east London hospital, staff said some patients were spending up to six hours waiting in ambulances before being transferred to wards inside.

At another hospital in southeast London, COVID-19 patients had to be moved to other hospitals due to concerns it was running out of pipes and infrastructure to deliver oxygen.

As for reopening schools, Hayward said there have to be restrictions elsewhere in society to "pay for that."

"We need to more or less stay at home unless you really have to go out, combined with testing and isolation to carry us through the next few months while we get as many people as possible vaccinated."

The UK is now waiting for the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine to be approved by regulatory authorities, allowing the country to massively scale up its vaccination program.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper, easier to distribute and store than the already-approved Pfizer jab and the UK has ordered 100 million doses of it – 40 million of which should be available by March 2021.

A report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has found the UK needs to vaccinate 2 million people a week to avoid a third wave. This is 10 times more than the current vaccination roll-out.

The NHS's Stevens said: "By late spring, we think that with vaccine supply continuing to come on-stream, we will have been able to offer all vulnerable people across this country this vaccination and that perhaps provides the biggest chink of hope for the year ahead."

With a more infectious strain of COVID-19 sweeping across the UK and new infections soaring to more than 40,000 per day, hope is in short supply at the moment.

The British public is facing months of restrictions throughout the winter. As the nights grow darker and the days colder, widespread vaccination can't come fast enough.

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