he NHS faces the “most dangerous situation” in living memory as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches hospitals to breaking point, Chris Whitty has warned.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Professor Whitty urged the public to follow lockdown rules and “find the collective strength to get through this critical stage and save as many lives as we can”.
Elsewhere, The Sunday Telegraph reports that police will operate a “one warning” policy for issuing fines under lockdown rules, while quick turnaround tests for people without tests are set to be rolled out across the country this week.
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‘May not be tough enough’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the current lockdown rules “may not be tough enough”.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “They are tough and they’re necessary. They may not be tough enough.
“In a sense, I think the most important thing is people get that message about stay at home.
“And it’s up to the Government to put that message out there the whole time. We’ve had mixed messages I’m afraid for the last nine months which is why we’ve got a problem.
“I would like to see the Prime Minister out there every day with a press conference making sure that message is absolutely getting through.”
‘Vaccine already preventing cases’
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the vaccine rollout will already have prevented thousands of people from having to be admitted to hospital with the virus.
The Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bristol told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge: “It’s really too soon for the vaccine to have started having a measurable impact, but we can predict that already it’s preventing cases just simply from the numbers of people who’ve received the vaccine which is now approaching one-and-a-half million people, and the rate of infection that’s occurring which is really very high now.
“So there are certainly thousands of people already who have not been admitted to hospital and who will not be dying of this infection as a consequence of the programme that’s begun in December.”
12 weeks of lockdown?
Lockdown in the UK should continue for the next 12 weeks, a public health expert has said.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of public health at Edinburgh University, told Times Radio that, although lockdowns are “crude” and “catastrophic” for the economy and mental health, one is needed given the prevalence of Covid-19 across the UK currently.
But, Prof Sridhar said, a post-lockdown strategy must be put in place to suppress the virus going into the summer.
She said: “With the numbers we’re at, there’s no other choice.
“For me, it’s a three-phase strategy – first is right now, it’s crude, it’s catastrophic for the economy and for people’s mental health, but a lockdown.
“Get those numbers down, protect the NHS for the next 12 weeks.”
She added: “When we get into March and hopefully numbers are low again and we get into seasonal change, get your testing and tracing and your border measures in place to really suppress.
“And then in the summer, instead of taking your foot off the gas and saying ‘let’s open up everything’, actually think ‘how do we prevent this winter from happening again? How do we actually protect that low prevalence, get emergency teams in place in case there are flare ups… go in, have a quick, sharp one-week lockdown and get your testing and tracing to clear the virus.”
‘Very, very bad’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “the pressure on the NHS is very, very bad”.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “The single biggest thing that anybody can do is to follow the stay at home guidance.
“There are limited exemptions. Only if you can’t work from home and if you need to go out and get shopping or take some exercise.
“But these are highly-limited for a good reason and that’s because the pressure on the NHS is very, very bad and we need to bring the case rate right down.
“So it’s on all of us really, it always has been a big team effort.”
‘No clear strategy’
The UK has “no clear strategy” to alleviate pressure on hospitals battling coronavirus beyond “reactive lockdowns”, a public health expert has said.
The country has seen some form of restrictions placed on the population for almost a year, said Professor Devi Sridhar, adding that it is “unrealistic” to expect people to adhere to rules for months on end.
The chairwoman of public health at Edinburgh University told Times Radio: “I think the larger issue here is the UK has no clear strategy beyond reactive lockdowns whenever hospitals are under pressure.
“People have been in lockdown for almost a year and I think it is unrealistic for people to continue to distance and avoid mixing for months and months when it’s part of what makes us human.”
She added: “I see this slightly differently. We need a plan to stop these lockdowns, and to learn from other countries – those in east Asia and the Pacific – which are largely back to normal.”
‘Stay at home’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS needs people to “stay at home”.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “It is a very, very serious situation in the NHS, especially in some parts of the country.
“But actually we’ve got challenges throughout the whole of the UK and the NHS needs you now more than it’s needed anyone at any point and what it needs people to do is to stay at home.”
Good morning and welcome to the Evening Standard’s UK Coronavirus live blog for Sunday, January 10
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