Covid restrictions could be reintroduced if rising infections hits NHS backlog, minister warns

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Figures show at least 2.7 million people in the UK had Covid over the last week

Covid restrictions could be reintroduced if rising case numbers impact the NHS backlog, a minister has warned.

Junior health minister Lord Kamall also said free Covid testing may also return if cases do not slow down.

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His warning comes after new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show at least 2.7 million people were estimated to have had Covid over the last week - up 18% from 2.3 million the previous week.

The number of people hospitalised in England has also reached its highest level in almost three months, with 13,336 patients in hospital as of 8am on Monday 11 July.

AFP via Getty Images

How serious is the current wave?

The current wave is being driven by the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants, which are now the dominant strains of Covid in the UK.

The variants are more transmissible than the BA.2 strain that caused infection levels to reach an all-time high earlier this year, but are not thought to cause more serious disease.

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Infections are currently at their highest level since April, but are still some way below the record levels at the peak of the BA.2 wave in March.

Health experts have warned the numbers are likely to carry on rising throughout July, driven by a "substantial amount" of waning immunity among older people.

What was said in the House of Lords?

In the House of Lords, health minister Lord Kamall was asked what the government was prepared to do if rising cases began to impact the health system.

He told peers the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) was still "focusing on the backlog".

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But he added: "If it gets to a point where it is affecting the backlog then clearly measures may well have to be introduced."

Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath questioned what the government will do in the face of rising cases, and Labour health spokeswoman Baroness Merron opened the debate. She noted a “stark rise” in infections and questioned if mandatory face masks in hospitals could return.

Lady Merron said: “We might be through the worst of Covid but it evidently hasn’t gone away.”

In response, Lord Kamall said: “We are always ready to stand up measures should the case rates rise so much that our health system was under pressure, but also what we have managed to do is break the link between infections and hospitalisations, and hospitalisations and death.

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“If that gets out of control then of course we will stand up the measures that we have previously.”

He also suggested free testing could be reintroduced if needed.

How serious is the current pressure on hospitals?

Around six in 10 patients in England who test positive for Covidare being treated primarily for something else rather than the virus, but still need to be kept isolated from other patients. This is putting extra pressure on hospital staff and resources.

Official data shows that the number of people in hospital in England who have tested positive for Covid currently stands at 12,283, up 31% week on week.

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Patient numbers are nearing the peak reached during the BA.2 wave of infections earlier this year, but are still well below levels seen in the first year of the pandemic.

Sage expert Susan Michie slammed the government’s Covid policy as "shut your eyes and let it rip".

Ms Michie told the Sunday Mirror urgent action is needed to stop huge numbers of unnecessary deaths and hospitalisations as new, highly infectious variants spread across the country.

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