NHS 'not yet seen impact of Christmas mixing', Jonathan Van-Tam warns

30 December 2020, 18:52 | Updated: 31 December 2020, 00:26

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The NHS has not yet seen the impact of Christmas mixing despite infections rising dramatically in recent days, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has warned.

England's deputy chief medical officer presented the latest "rather sobering" coronavirus data while speaking at the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday.

Prof Van-Tam told reporters the UK is currently facing a "pretty grim and depressing" situation with many regions, particularly London and the South East, in a "precarious" position.

Responding to the fact that 78 per cent of the country will be plunged into Tier 4 restrictions from Thursday morning, the deputy CMO said: "Unfortunately it is a pretty grim and depressing picture at the moment.

"The situation in the UK is precarious in many parts already, particularly the South East and London," he said.

"It is almost certainly true that the NHS has not yet seen the impact of the infections that will have occurred during mixing on Christmas Day and that is also unfortunately rather sobering."

Read more: Millions more put into Tier 4 as hospitals see surge of Covid cases

Explained: Which new areas have entered Tier 4 in England?

The NHS is yet to feel the impact of Christmas mixing, the deputy CMO has warned
The NHS is yet to feel the impact of Christmas mixing, the deputy CMO has warned. Picture: PA

Prof Van-Tam added that members of the public have "just got to play your part in bringing us back from this very dangerous situation that we find ourselves in".

He also highlighted how quickly Covid-19 and the new variant was being transmitted across England.

At the start of autumn, roughly one in 900 people in the nation were testing positive for the virus, whereas that number had risen to one in 70 just before Christmas.

The professor explained that in areas including the East of England, the south of England and London, cases of the new Covid strain were increasing at a "really very substantial rate indeed".

Prof Van-Tam said there was "enormous concern" that the new variant "with its new transmissibility" was spreading from the south to other parts of the country.

Read more: Primary schools in hotspots to remain shut, plus secondary return delay

Read more: UK Covid deaths jump by 981 in deadliest day since April

Earlier, it was announced that millions more will be plunged into Tier 4 from Thursday, as other areas which have enjoyed lower restrictions will be placed under Tier 3.

The latest announcement means an additional 20 million people will be in almost total lockdown from one minute past midnight, taking the total number to 44 million - 78 per cent of England's population.

It comes as hospitals across the country report seeing increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients, with Essex and Buckinghamshire both declaring "major incidents" over the decreasing number of beds available.

Elsewhere, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced in the Commons that primary schools in coronavirus hotspots will remain closed at the start of the new term, while secondary schools will not fully reopen until 18 January.

He told MPs it was a "last resort" that some schools needed to temporarily close where infection rates are highest.

Mr Williamson said the "overwhelming majority" of primary schools will open as planned on 4 January, but added: "In a small number of areas where the infection rates are highest we will implement our existing contingency framework such as only vulnerable children and children of critical workers will attend face to face."

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