UK scrambles for hospital beds as virus surges

Medical chiefs in England raced to boost treatment capacity on Thursday as a surge in coronavirus cases risked overwhelming hospitals, even as the government stepped up its mass inoculation campaign.

A leaked briefing suggested that London’s hospitals were on the brink of running out of beds, endangering the lives of patients needing critical care.

The UK on Thursday recorded another 1,162 deaths within 28 days of a positive test for Covid-19 — the second highest toll since the peak of the first wave in April last year.

There were more than 52,000 new cases in 24 hours, taking the overall number of infections to nearly 2.9 million, following the emergence of a new coronavirus strain in southeast England last month which has seen other countries ban travel from Britain.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a third stay-at-home order this week and said in the face of the “tragic number of deaths”, the government was “really throwing everything” at its world-first vaccine rollout programme, with military backing.

The chief executive of England’s National Health Service (NHS), Simon Stevens, gave stark warnings of the mounting stress on hospitals.

“The pressures are real and they are growing,” he said, adding that public compliance with the lockdown and medical advice was vital “to kill the growth of infection”. (AFP | Anna MALPAS / Callum PATON)