North of England bracing for huge COVID wave as new variant continues to spread

Rebecca Speare-Cole
·4-min read
NHS staff outside an entrance to Southend University hospital in Essex. Hospitals in the county have declared a major incident and local authorities, concerned about the number of Covid-19 cases, have asked for military help to increase hospital capacity, with fears over critical care, bed capacity and staff sickness.
NHS staff outside an entrance to Southend University hospital in Essex. (PA)
coronavirus latest news
coronavirus latest news

The North of England is bracing for a devastating COVID-19 wave as the new variant continues to spread across the UK.

The mutant coronavirus strain was first detected in the South East before Christmas and has been found to be 70% more transmissible.

It has since been driving up new infection rates, putting the NHS on the brink of being overwhelmed.

Several London hospitals like UCH and the Royal London have issued desperate pleas for more staff in the last 24 hours as COVID wards fill up rapidly.

Read: Coronavirus vaccine shortages 'will last for months', Chris Whitty warns

Yesterday, NHS England said a further 420 deaths in the UK were reported and 50,668 cases were confirmed.

Meanwhile, England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that COVID vaccine shortages “will last for months” despite the newly approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine improving supply issues.

Now several experts and public officials are warning that the North will be hit hard by the surging COVID wave in the coming weeks.

Dr Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said she feared the added pressures being seen at London hospitals in dealing with the volume of coronavirus patients had started to spread across the country.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 31: People walk past a government sponsored Covid-19 warning sign in the near deserted Manchester streets on December 31, 2020 in Manchester, England. New Year's Eve Celebrations have been curtailed in the UK this year dues to Coronavirus pandemic restrictions. With most of the UK in tiers three and four socialising is off limits. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
People walk past a government sponsored Covid-19 warning sign in the near deserted Manchester streets on December 31 (Getty Images)

Asked whether the problems were becoming more "widespread", she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "That's what appears to be happening.

"Everyone has seen what is happening in London and the pressure that is putting both on organisations and on staff as well, and we fear it is only a matter of time before it starts to spread to other parts of the country, and we are already starting to see that.

"It is really important that we try and stop the transmission in the community because that translates into hospital admissions."

Dr Pittard said staff had become "tired and exhausted" due to the increased workload following a number of hectic months dealing with coronavirus patients.

She added that moving patients to less busy hospitals for intensive care treatment was a "logistical nightmare" and took up additional staff time.

WATCH: COVID-19: Eight-year-old dies with coronavirus as cases exceed 50,000 for four days running

Professor Dominic Harrison, director of Public Health for Blackburn with Darwen council also warned another wave is set to hit the North of England.

He wrote in the Lancashire Telegraph: “It now looks certain that we will see a third wave of COVID-19 – probably peaking in early February.

He continued: “The third wave and the new COVID variant are travelling fast. We have evidence that the new variant is present in Lancashire with some Pennine Lancashire areas seeing very big rises in the week up to 24th December – Blackburn with Darwen 33%, Pendle 25%, and Ribble Valley 52%.

“We can expect these rises in confirmed cases to generate rapidly rising hospital admissions over the coming weeks and East Lancashire Hospitals Trust is already under significant pressure on both staff and beds."

A senior ICU consultant in the North of England told the Mirror: "I have grave concerns for the next three months in how stretched we will be in acute services in the NHS.

Ambulances parked outside the The Royal London Hospital emergency department in London, Britain, 30 December 2020. NHS England figures show England's hospitals now have more Covid-19 patients than during April's first-wave peak. Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to rule out a third national lockdown in the New Year. (Photo by Maciek Musialek/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Ambulances parked outside the The Royal London Hospital emergency department in London (Getty Images)

"Our concern is that sections of society seem to be wilfully ignoring some of the instructions."

The doctor told the publication that said his ward was already struggling with the demand and severely understaffed, adding that it was often operating with just 12 staff when it usually required 19.

Professor Jim Naismith from Oxford University told media outlets that tougher lockdown measures are needed as the next few weeks are expected to be "nail-bitingly difficult".

Prof Naismith said: “Unless we do something different the new virus strain is going to continue to spread, more infections, more hospitalisations and more deaths."

Data from NHS England shows that, in the final week of December, there were 828 more patients in ICUs across England than in the same week last year.

Read more

The Tier 4 COVID lockdown rules explained

The Tier 3 COVID lockdown rules explained

The Tier 2 COVID lockdown rules explained

Health officials and experts have also warned that the surge in patients may not yet include those who caught the virus over Christmas.

The situation is already dire in Northern Ireland, where bed occupancy in the health service is now at 100%, with ambulance crews braced for long delays.

Meanwhile, all of mainland Scotland and Skye remained under the highest curbs as 2021 began.

WATCH: Three intensive care units in London “full” on New Year’s Eve, leaked emails reveal