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Toughest COVID restrictions could be expanded in England as daily recorded cases pass 50,000

Written by on 30 December 2020

The toughest coronavirus restrictions could be expanded to more areas in England, as daily recorded cases continue to surge and hospitals report record numbers of patients being treated for the virus.

Possible changes to COVID-19 tier areas were discussed as Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of ministers on Tuesday.

Sky News understands that keeping schools closed after the Christmas break was also on the agenda.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will announce any changes to the tier allocations in a statement to MPs on Wednesday.

The review of England’s tiered system of restrictions follows more areas being moved into Tier 4 on Boxing Day.

More than six million people in east and southeast England were moved into the top tier on Saturday, with ministers deciding to act quickly rather than wait for the next scheduled review of the tier allocations.

Currently, 24 million people – 43% of the population – are in Tier 4.

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London doctor: ‘Situation is critical’

The number of daily positive tests has continued to increase, reaching 53,135 on Tuesday, a fresh high. A further 414 deaths were also reported.

The total is likely to have been inflated by a delay in data reporting because of Christmas, with Tuesday’s numbers including individuals who tested positive before 25 December.

However, Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, said the figures were “largely a reflection of a real increase”.

She said the “unprecedented levels of COVID-19 infection across the UK” are a cause for “extreme concern”.

Five of the seven NHS regions in England are currently reporting a record number of hospital patients with coronavirus.

The number of NHS beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in England on Tuesday was 21,787 – up from 20,426 on Monday – a rise of 1,361 in a single day.

Five of the seven NHS regions in England are currently reporting a record number of hospital patients: Eastern England, London, the Midlands, southeast England and southwest England.

And ambulances have been seen queuing outside hospitals, including the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, Queen’s Hospital in Romford and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

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‘Hospitals under immense pressure’

In London, the number of patients in hospital with the virus is now higher than during the first peak.

Figures from NHS England show there were 5,371 COVID patients in the capital as of 8am on 29 December.

During the first wave, the number in London peaked at 5,201 on 9 April.

A London paramedic has told Sky News how he looked after patients in the back of his ambulance because there was “simply nowhere for them to go”.

Meanwhile, the NHS trust in charge of Southend Hospital has asked staff to defer annual leave to “help support colleagues”.

Areas that could be moved from Tier 3 to Tier 4 include parts of the East Midlands, such as Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, as well as all areas of the West Midlands metropolitan county.

Hartlepool in the North East, along with areas in Lancashire such as Blackburn with Darwen, Pendle and Ribble Valley – could also be moved to Tier 4.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, warned “options were narrowing” to halt the spread of the virus.

She said: “Pressures on the NHS in some parts of the country are rising at an unsustainable rate.

“Thankfully, trusts in other areas have been helping out. But with the virus spreading fast alongside mounting winter pressures, the options are narrowing.

“We urgently need to get ahead of the outbreak. The COVID-19 tier review offers an opportunity to do that.”

Campaigning organisation EveryDoctor is calling for Parliament to be recalled in a bid to save lives as the “NHS faces its darkest hour”.

In an open letter to Mr Hancock, it warns “dozens of hospitals are now on the brink of disaster” and demands frontline healthcare and social care workers to be prioritised immediately for the vaccine rollout, as well as the reintroduction of mandatory shielding.