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Authorities in Essex call for military to help deal with surge in COVID cases

Written by on 30 December 2020

Local authorities in Essex are calling on the military to step in to help deal with the growing surge in coronavirus cases there.

The plea comes after a “major incident” was declared in the county where health services are threatened with being overwhelmed by a significant rise in COVID-19 infections.

The Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, Sir Bernard Jenkin, confirmed authorities were asking for help from the armed forces.

He said: “At this very moment they are submitting a request for military assistance to the civil authority.”

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He explained authorities had made a ‘MACA’ (Military Aid to Civilian Authority) request to assist with “the construction of community hospitals, additional hospital capacity and supported by the armed forces and partly staffed by the armed forces”.

“They would also like armed forces help with the rollout of the vaccine to accelerate that in Essex and to assist with testing in schools,” he added.

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The county declared “major incident status” in response to a “significant growing demand” on hospitals. It will enable local leaders to seek further government support, the Essex Resilience Forum (ERF) said.

Hospital bosses in Southend and Basildon also made a plea for any clinical staff who are on annual leave to return to work immediately to relieve the pressure.

The ERF – which is made up of members of the NHS, emergency services and local authorities – added that the number of patients in Essex receiving treatment for COVID-19 had now increased to levels exceeding those seen at the peak of the first wave.

All of Essex is in tier 4 and the south of the county has some of the worst-affected districts in England, with infections expected to increase in the coming days,

Critical care and bed capacity are among areas of concern, as well as staff sickness and the ability to discharge patients quickly into safe environments.

Anthony McKeever, executive lead for Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership, said: “We are taking every action possible within the NHS and across the wider health and social care partnerships in Essex to limit the impact on the NHS and the wider health system.

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“This involves using critical care capacity elsewhere in Essex and the eastern region and identifying additional locations and capacity to assist with the discharging of patients to reduce pressure on hospitals.”

He added: “Our strong working relationships mean we are able to respond effectively to support our local communities.”

Mr McKeever also paid tribute to his “hard-working colleagues” who are “all doing an amazing job in extremely difficult circumstances”.

Chief Constable of Essex Police and co-chair of the Essex Local Resilience Forum, BJ Harrington, said: “Declaring a major incident enables us to seek further support from the government to address the severe pressures which the health system is under because of COVID-19.

“The people of Essex have been magnificent and are only dialling 999 or attending A&E in an emergency – we need this to continue because this will help protect the very limited capacity available at our hospitals.”

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‘Hospitals under immense pressure’

The county has the three highest COVID-19 infection rates in England. Brentwood is the highest, with 969 new cases recorded in the seven days to 25 December – equivalent to 1,258.1 cases per 100,000.

That is up from 1,134.8 in the seven days to 18 December.

Epping Forest has the second highest rate, with 1,654 new cases over that period and an increase to 1,256 cases per 100,000. Thurrock, again in Essex, has the third highest although the rate there has fallen slightly to 1,181.6 per 100,000 with a total of 2,060 new cases.

It comes after it was revealed that England’s hospitals are now treating more patients than during the peak of the first wave in April.

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Data suggests the variant, known as VUI-202012/01, has most commonly been found in London, Kent and parts of east England.

According to NHS England, there were 21,787 patients in NHS hospitals in England as of 8am on Tuesday, compared with 20,426 on Monday, and 18,974 at the peak of the first wave on 12 April.

The UK also reported another 53,135 cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest recorded daily total since the pandemic began.