Hospitals ban visits to try to limit surging infections
A new record of 189,846 Covid cases has been registered in the past 24 hours, government figures show, as Omicron continues ripping through the country and millions prepare to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
The number is up from the 189,213 new lab-confirmed Covid cases in the previous 24-hour period reported on Thursday.
And it’s feared new-year gatherings and socialising could cause infections to spread even more rapidly.
With cases already surging, the government is under increasing pressure from the NHS to bring in fresh restrictions for the public to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with Covid patients.
A leading scientist, Peter Openshaw, has warned it is likely that the health service will be overwhelmed by the spread of the Omicron variant.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the British Medical Association have also urged ministers to ensure key workers are first in line to access tests to help ease staffing shortfalls.
A spike in demand for Covid tests has led to shortages of the kits as people try to comply with advice to limit the spread of the Omicron variant by ensuring they do not have coronavirus before socialising.
Millions more people are likely to order tests in the coming days after new-year celebrations on Friday and Saturday.
Meanwhile, more than a dozen hospitals have temporarily banned visits in efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Patients in London, Yorkshire and Essex are among those who will no longer be able to receive visitors after it was found growing numbers of people were bringing cases onto wards.
Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust in London, which oversees University Hospital Lewisham and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, said the decision had been “extremely difficult” to make.
Exemptions apply, including for end-of-life care, women giving birth and children being visited by their parents.
The trust said the restrictions, which came into force at 9am on Wednesday, would be kept under close review and relaxed as soon as it was safe to do so.
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust, which manages the five NHS adult hospitals across the city, said transmission on some of its sites was linked to people visiting patients.
Chief nurse Chris Morley said: “Sadly, the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is now spreading rapidly in the local community, and while we have been trying to maintain some visiting because we realise how important this is to patients and relatives, unfortunately the increase in cases does now pose a greater risk of our patients acquiring the virus.”
Plans to allow limited visits on New Year’s Day at two hospitals in Coventry and Warwickshire have been scrapped due to the spread of the virus.
University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust had been considering permitting one visitor per patient for an hour to support those stuck on wards during the festive period. But the trust, which runs University Hospital Coventry, and the Hospital of St Cross, Rugby, called off the proposals on Thursday due to increased Covid cases.
Similar restrictions have been imposed at all hospitals run by East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust.
New Year’s Eve is the last day before all general ward visiting is suspended across Colchester and Ipswich hospitals and community units managed by the trust.
Chief nurse Giles Thorpe said: “We have been keeping a close eye on community Covid-19 infection rates and the number of people in our hospitals with the virus and this is action we really need to take now.
“One of the ways we can keep our staff and patients safe is to reduce the footfall on our sites.”
The health service is also hurriedly setting up temporary “Nightingale surge hubs” outside main hospitals in England to deal with rising demand for hospital beds.