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Coronavirus infection rates were going down slower than the NHS expected meaning the peak will not come until next month.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told MPs hospitals faced worsening pressures despite national lockdowns.
Giving evidence at Health Committee, he said: It seems now pretty clear the infection rate is not going to go down as quickly as it did in the first phase, and it’s going to go down more slowly because of the increased transmissibility of the new strain.
“We were hoping for a sharp peak that came sooner and shorter. So something for example where we saw the peak and started to crest it in mid to late January.
“It now looks like the peak for NHS demand may actually now be in February.
“Now if that’s right that’s going to basically mean there’s a higher level, and a more extended period of pressure on the NHS than we were expecting even just a week ago.”
NHS England data showed there were 32,070 Covid-19 patients in English hospitals as of 8am on Monday. The figure is up 20% compared to last week, and up 81% since Christmas Day.
Professor Stephen Powis also warned that the peak was several weeks away
(Image: Sky News)
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A further 529 people died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus as of Monday, bringing the UK total to 81,960 – though separate figures show there have now been 97,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.
Last night NHS England’s national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, told a Downing Street press briefing that vaccination would gradually lead to a drop in people in hospital – but that we hadn't yet hit the peak
“But we are not going to see it now,” he said. “We are not going to see it next week or the week after.
“It won’t be until we get to February that we are going to see the early signs of that.
“The vaccination programme gives hope but to battle the virus today, we have to comply with the guidelines today.”
He said more than 1,200 vaccination sites in England would be in place by the end of the week, including community pharmacies.
The NHS was “in a sprint” to reach the top four priority groups by mid-February, followed by the rest of the vulnerable groups by April, with a final push to offer all adults over 18 a vaccination by the autumn.
Overall, there will be 2,700 vaccine sites across the UK, according to the Government’s vaccine rollout plan.