Professor Chris Whitty has warned the NHS is entering its “worst weeks of the pandemic” as coronavirus hospitalisations continue to increase far past the peak seen during the first wave last year.
England’s chief medical officer urged people to “double down” on rules and precautions to help stop the virus for the “several weeks” needed for the vaccination programme to take effect.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Whitty said: “The peak we had back in April last year, we had about 18,000 people in the NHS. We currently, as of yesterday, have over 30,000 people in the NHS.
“This new variant is really pushing things in a way that the old variant – which was already very bad – was not able to.
“So, we have a very significant problem … this is a serious problem and it is rising in every part of England. The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS.”
The grim warning comes as the UK’s vaccination rollout speeds up this week with seven mass vaccination centres opening across England.
Ashton Gate football stadium in Bristol, Epsom racecourse in Surrey, the Excel Centre where London’s Nightingale hospital is based, Newcastle’s Centre for Life, the Manchester Tennis and Football Centre, Robertson House in Stevenage and Birmingham’s Millennium Point will offer jabs to people aged 80 and older, along with health and care staff.
These centres will be joined later this week by hundreds more GP-led and hospital services along with the first pharmacy-led pilot sites, taking the total of sites to around 1,200, PA Media report.
The government has set a target of having 15 million people vaccinated by mid-February, with every adult in the UK vaccinated by autumn.
Whitty said: “What we need to do before the vaccines have had their effect – because it’s going to take several weeks before that happens – is we need to really double down.
“This is everybody’s problem, any single unnecessary contact with someone is a potential link in a chain of transmission that will lead to a vulnerable person.
“We’ve all got to, as individuals, help the NHS, help our fellow citizens, by minimising the amount of unnecessary contacts we have.”