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UK hospitals stagger under toll from the new virus variant

Johnson announced the tough new stay-at-home order for England that takes effect at midnight Jan. 5 and won't be reviewed until at least mid-February.

January 5, 2021  by Associated Press

England’s National Health Service is accustomed to tough winters — and caring for people on overcrowded wards sometimes means moving patients into the corridor. But this is different. Now some are lucky just to get medical help as they wait in an ambulance in the parking lot.

Pressure on the nation’s hospitals forced the hand of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has plunged the country into its third national lockdown and ordered everyone to stay at home as much as possible for at least the next six weeks. The situation is worsening, said Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst of the King’s Fund think-tank.

“It’s not hyperbole to say that the (National Health Service) is going through probably the toughest time in living memory,” he told The Associated Press. Anandaciva said some emergency rooms have waits of 12 hours.

“I was speaking to an emergency care physician from London last week, and she was saying that half of her shift was spent delivering care in ambulances because they couldn’t get the patients into the emergency department,” he said. “So you put that all together and you paint a picture of the health service that’s under incredible pressure.”

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Johnson announced the tough new stay-at-home order for England that takes effect at midnight Jan. 5 and won’t be reviewed until at least mid-February. Few in England expect any relief until after the traditional late February school break.

Scotland’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, also imposed a lockdown that began Jan. 5. Northern Ireland and Wales had already imposed tough measures, though rules vary.

Johnson and Sturgeon said the restrictions were needed to protect the hard-pressed National Health Service as a new, more contagious variant of coronavirus sweeps across Britain. On Jan. 4, hospitals in England were treating 26,626 COVID-19 patients, 40% more than during the first peak in mid-April.

Public health officials hope the new lockdown will reduce the strains on the NHS while they roll out a national vaccination program that targets older people, health care workers and those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Britain has approved vaccine shots from two different manufacturers so far — one from Pfizer-BioNTech and the other from Oxford University and AstraZeneca.

New COVID-19 infections have soared in recent weeks as public health officials struggled to contain the new variant, which the government says is 50% to 70% more contagious. The number of confirmed new daily infections in the past seven days jumped 50% from the previous week, and coronavirus-related deaths rose 21% in the same period.

Britain has been seeing over 50,000 new infections a day for a week and has reported 75,500 virus-related deaths overall, one of the highest tallies in Europe.


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