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The scary surge in coronavirus admissions in London is causing major alarm in the North West, where covid occupancy has again started to rise after weeks of decline.
If the steep trajectory of positive cases and admissions in the capital — seemingly made worse by the more transmissible new strain of the virus — is replicated in urban centres such as Liverpool and Manchester, it could be catastrophic.
The surge in London began really accelerating at the start of December, when the capital had around 1,200 covid-positive patients in its general and acute hospital beds (10 per cent of the total). By 29 December, this had increased more than three-fold to around 4,200 (34 per cent).
What’s worrying for the North West is that its increase in the last week is starting from a much higher base, with 2,100 covid patients in general and acute beds on 29 December (17 per cent).
If it experiences a similar trajectory to London, this would mean covid occupancy reaching a massive 7,400 by the end of January, which would be 60 per cent of the current bed base (which would surely be expanded, with thinner staffing ratios).
Even if it got anywhere close to this level, many hospitals would be overwhelmed and unable to cope properly with non-covid emergencies, as is already starting to happen in London.
Whatever new restrictions are announced this week, they must stop the new strain taking hold in the North of England.
Lessons from Liverpool
In defending its plans to reopen schools across most of the country, the government is still using Liverpool as its poster child for controlling the second wave of coronavirus.
In an interview on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Boris Johnson said the use of tougher restrictions and mass testing in the city had proved that it was possible to reduce the virus while keeping schools open.
The city was hit early and hard by the second wave in September and October, but the positive impact of these measures was clear to see in the data throughout November.
It was so successful that Liverpool even spent a few weeks in tier 2, with pubs and non-essential shops able to stay open, and some fans allowed into football matches at Anfield and Goodison Park.
If Liverpool can do it, why not the rest of the country?
Yet, the situation in Liverpool has been changing rapidly in recent weeks, with demand on hospitals steadily rising again, and new cases tripling in the last fortnight.
This may be the impact of the new strain — which, if it’s happening in Liverpool is certainly happening elsewhere — and it means a far more drastic and urgent response is required.
Leaders at Liverpool Council called at the weekend for the tier system to be replaced by a new national lockdown, but would that be enough without school closures?