UK health chiefs brace for ‘bumpy ride’ amid Covid wave fears | Coronavirus

Health chiefs are bracing for a ‘bumpy ride’ over the next few months, fearing the latest wave of Covid will drive hospitalizations to their highest level in more than a year and that seasonal flu pressures will strike early.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of Britain’s Health Security Agency, told the BBC’s Sunday Morning program that hospital cases with Covid are expected to rise in the coming weeks, with admissions likely to top the April peak driven by the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that Covid infections in the UK soared by more than half a million in a week at the end of June in the latest wave driven by even more transmissible variants of Omicron known as the name of BA.4 and BA. 5.

“It does not appear that this wave is over yet, so we expect hospital cases to increase. And it is possible, very likely, that they will peak during the previous BA.2 wave,” Harries said. “But I think the overall impact, we won’t know. It’s easy to say in retrospect, it’s not so easy to model forward.

At its peak in April, the BA.2 wave in England hospitalized more than 2,000 people a day, making it more dangerous than the first Omicron wave in January. The deadliest wave of the pandemic to date came in January 2021 when the Alpha variant pushed daily hospitalizations in England above 4,000 in the first weeks of the vaccination programme.

Harries’ comments sparked a warning from NHS chiefs about the pressures hospitals will face as the number of Covid patients rises ahead of another surge expected in the fall and what health officials fear will be a bad and early flu season.

“Trusted leaders know they will face challenges over the coming months as they tackle new and unpredictable variants of Covid-19 while grappling with seasonal flu pressures that could hitting earlier than usual this year,” said Saffron Cordery, the acting chief executive of NHS providers.

“The policy of living with Covid does not mean that Covid is gone. The latest data shows we cannot afford to be complacent, with currently small but concerning increases over the past week in the number of patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 and those requiring ventilators. Warnings from Dr Jenny Harries today that community infection rates and hospital admissions are set to rise further are concerning.

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Cordery added: “The waves of Covid-19 and flu will put further strain on stretched NHS staff and services and their efforts to tackle waiting lists, achieve efficiencies and transform the NHS , as well as our beleaguered colleagues in social services.

An estimated 2.3million people in private households across the UK had Covid in the week ending June 24, up 32% from the previous week, according to the ONS. The figure suggests infections are at their highest level since late April, although well below the record high of 4.9 million infections during the BA.2 wave in late March.

Harries said the rise in Covid hospitalizations, despite vaccines and antiviral drugs, would affect other work in the health service. “It’s not just Covid we’re concerned about, but it’s also our ability to treat other illnesses,” she said.

She encouraged people to “lead a normal life but in a safe way”, emphasizing hand washing, keeping distance if possible and wearing a face covering in closed and poorly ventilated places. Of wearing masks, she said: “If I have a respiratory infection, that’s a good thing to do, and I think that’s a new lesson for the country.”

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Edward L. Robinett