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Relaxing Covid restrictions could trigger third wave at busiest time of year, NHS leaders warn Johnson

Warning comes as ministers prepare for review of England’s three-tier system

Conrad Duncan
Sunday 13 December 2020 01:22 GMT
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Coronavirus in numbers

Relaxing coronavirus restrictions next week could trigger a third wave of infections during the busiest time of year for hospitals, NHS bosses have warned.

NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS trusts in England, has written to Boris Johnson to raise concerns about pressure on the health service this winter as ministers prepare for a review of England’s three-tier system on Wednesday.

Chris Hopson, the organisation’s chief executive, told the BBC that there were strong fears that the NHS would not be able to cope over the coming months if cases rise again.

“We're about to hit our busiest time of year so people are really worried that if we relax the restrictions now the NHS simply won't be able to cope with all of the work that it needs to do in late December, January and February,” he said.

The warning came after the government announced on Saturday that councils in the toughest Tier 3 level would be allowed to roll out community programmes for rapid turnaround lateral flow tests.

An initial wave of 67 local authorities have received government approval for testing schemes as part of efforts to move them into lower tiers with less restrictive measures.

However, NHS Providers said it was worried that infection rates would rise again rapidly after England’s second national lockdown if restrictions are relaxed.

“The evidence of the second wave suggests that unless infection rates fall to a very low level, as they did in London after the first wave, the virus will spread again quickly as soon as restrictions on social contact are relaxed,” the organisation said.

“Trust leaders are worried that if infection rates remain as high as they are at the moment, relaxing the restrictions will trigger a third wave.”

Rising infection rates in London have led to fears that the capital could be heading for tier 3 restrictions next week.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics indicated that the proportion of people testing positive for Covid-19 was estimated to have increased in London, despite decreasing in almost every other region.

London mayor Sadiq Khan warned shoppers on Saturday to follow social distancing measures and wear face coverings this weekend to prevent a further rise in cases.

“With cases rising in many parts of the capital, it is vital that we all work together to control [Covid-19’s] spread,” Mr Khan said in a statement with Westminster City Council leader Rachael Robathan.

“Otherwise we may face tougher restrictions, which would greatly harm shops in the West End, our hospitality sector and the whole of London's economy.”

Thousands of extra tests have also been made available for schools in areas of concern in the capital this week to tackle the spread of infections.

Additional reporting by PA

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