Senior medical experts have warned of the “cost” of households mixing in the festive period after doctors and nurses spent Christmas Day attending to “wall-to-wall” coronavirus patients.
Dr Katherine Henderson, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said the NHS will cope with a rise in cases but at the price of stopping “non-COVID activities”.
She pleaded for people to observe social distancing and health measures on New Year’s Eve as cases in the last week spiked above 35,000 on some days.
Meanwhile, the president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow has said it was right to relax restrictions on Christmas Day but warned “there will be a cost for this”.
Their comments came as cabinet office minister Michael Gove refused to rule out the entirety of England entering Tier 4 rules.
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Dr Henderson told BBC Breakfast that some patients were coming in to hospital with “other symptoms” but testing positive for coronavirus infection.
“I was on on Christmas Day and it was wall-to-wall COVID,” she said.
“The chances are that we will cope but we cope at a cost – the cost is not doing what we had hoped, which is being able to keep non-COVID activities going.”
Professor Jackie Taylor, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, warned that “usual winter pressures” on the health service mixed with the newly-identified coronavirus variant – which could be up to 70% more transmissible – means “we are really very anxious for the potential of a further huge surge of cases”.
She backed the decision to relax social distancing measures for Christmas Day and said “we have to remember our humanity”.
However, she warned: “I think it is absolutely right that the restrictions were only flexed for that day but, inevitably, there will be a cost for this.”
All four countries of the UK had agreed to relax restrictions for 23 to 27 December but reversed the decision amid rising cases, with England, Scotland and Wales limiting the creation of temporary household bubbles to Christmas Day only.
London and parts of the South East and East of England were put into the new Tier 4 and were not included in the relaxation.
Michael Gove refused to rule out placing all of England under Tier 4 – effectively a new lockdown – on Monday.
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