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BORIS JOHNSON is under increased pressure to limit his Christmas relaxation of restrictions as medics warned of an “unrelenting tsunami” of coronavirus cases over the coming weeks.
The Prime Minister did not rule out a third lockdown for England today, while health chiefs predicted that frontline NHS services would be snowed under with demand as a result of the festive free-for-all.
Northern Ireland and Wales are set for lockdowns in the days after Christmas, while in Scotland the option for a post-Christmas lockdown “remains on the table,” Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said.
But Mr Johnson said he is “hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that” in England.
He acknowledged that the rates of infection had risen “very much in the last few weeks” but has stuck by his plan to allow mixing between households from December 23 to 27.
Up to three households are able to mix in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, while in Wales the limit is two.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged Mr Johnson to set out his plan for avoiding a third lockdown, while suggesting limiting Christmas mixing to between two households instead of three and even possibly limiting the number of people per household.
Mr Johnson reiterated that the allowances over the five days should be considered as “very much a maximum — not a target people should aim for.”
He added: “Keep it short, keep it small, have yourselves a very little Christmas as I said the other night — that is, I’m afraid, the way through this year.”
Senior medical officials urged Mr Johnson to change tack with just days to go until the holiday.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said that health workers would not enjoy Christmas “knowing what awaits them in January”, predicting an “unrelenting tsunami” of cases following the relaxed restrictions.
Society for Acute Medicine immediate past president Dr Nick Scriven said a period of mixing next week “strikes fear into the hearts of clinicians on the frontline.”
Royal College of Emergency Medicine president Dr Katherine Henderson described a “real perfect storm” for hospitals as they try to balance increased numbers of Covid-19 patients with non-Covid work while struggling with a lack of beds.
Bed shortages in a rising number of hospitals in England — mainly in London, Leicester and Northampton — have reportedly seen ambulances diverted and operations cancelled.
According to NHS data, hospitals had to tell ambulances to divert patients elsewhere 44 times last week, the highest number for four years.
And pressures have been made more intense by the number of NHS staff who are off work because of the virus, which doctors and NHS leaders said would only get worse over the coming weeks.
The latest figures in England show there were 15,465 patients in hospital with Covid-19 on December 16, more than at any time since the second wave began in September.
The ONS said the proportion of people in households testing positive for coronavirus had increased sharply in London, with other increases in Eastern England, the East Midlands and south-east England.
Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and the entirity of Hertfordshire will move to Tier 3 restrictions tomorrow. Greater London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire moved into the tier earlier this week.
Infection rates have continued to decrease in north-west England and Yorkshire and the Humber.
The reproduction number, or R value, of transmission across the UK is estimated to have risen to between 1.1 and 1.2.
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