NHS bosses have warned the prime minister that relaxing restrictions could trigger a third wave of coronavirus (Covid-19) at the busiest time of year for hospitals.
In a letter to Boris Johnson, NHS Providers urged “extreme caution” in moving any area of England to a lower tier, according to reports by the BBC.
The first review of England’s tier allocation is due take place on Wednesday 16 December. This would be two weeks after the three-tier system was brought in after the end of lockdown.
“The NHS simply won’t be able to cope”
But areas should be moved into the highest tier of restrictions “as soon as this is needed, without any delay”, according to the letter from NHS Providers. The letter represents hospital trusts in England.
Chief executive Chris Hopson told the BBC:
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.
While the letter didn’t call for a review of the temporary relaxation of measures over Christmas, NHS Providers said it was “vital” the public understands the risks of extra social contact during the festive period.
On Saturday 12 December, the government said a further 519 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus in the UK. And there were a further 21,502 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Social distancing rules will be relaxed for five days between 23 and 27 December. This would allow households to mix over the Christmas holidays.
A government spokesperson said ministers won’t “hesitate to take necessary actions to protect local communities”. She added that decisions are made based on the latest available data, going on to say:
We have introduced strengthened local restrictions to protect the progress gained during national restrictions, reduce pressure on the NHS and ultimately save lives…
On top of our record NHS investment, this winter we are providing an extra £3 billion to maintain independent sector and Nightingale hospital surge capacity and a further £450 million to upgrade and expand A&Es.
Meanwhile, mayor Sadiq Khan has urged Londoners to follow social-distancing measures and wear face coverings while Christmas shopping this weekend.
Crowds descended on the shopping districts of major cities, including London’s Regent Street, on Saturday 12 December. The was the case for the second weekend in a row.
Increased infection rates have led to fears the capital could be headed for Tier 3 restrictions. These would see hospitality settings closed except for takeaway.