Hospitals in London Britain's COVID-19 hotspot with over 3,000 of the country's 9,529 confirmed cases - are witnessing wave after wave of seriously ill coronavirus patients, a senior official from the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) said on Thursday as the UK entered day three of its lockdown to curb the pandemic.
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers the representative body for hospital chiefs, said that they have been getting reports that the rate at which hospital beds are being filled out is extremely alarming even as their staffing levels are dropping as a result of the infection.
They talk about wave after wave after wave. The words that are used to me are that it's a continuous tsunami. As one said to me, it's much bigger and large numbers with a greater degree of stretch than you can ever have possibly imagined, Hopson told the BBC.
They are struggling with the explosion of demand in seriously ill patients. They are saying it's the number arriving and the speed with which they are arriving and how ill they are, he said.
The UK government announced the setting up of a makeshift hospital with 4,000 beds to be created at the ExCel conference centre in east London earlier this week, a move welcomed by NHS Providers but with a warning that even that capacity is fast getting filled up in the UK capital.
One advantage we have is the opportunity to learn from what is going on in London, given that London is some way ahead of most of the rest of the country, recognising there are other hotspots elsewhere, said Hopson.
It's encouraging to hear there's progress with the antibody test to identify who's already had the disease. That will make a big difference in time, but the immediate focus is on who has COVID-19 now, and the reality is that despite the push to expand testing, it's not going to be sufficient to cover patients and a significant number of the NHS' 1.2 million staff, he warned.
The number of people who have died in the UK after contracting coronavirus rose by 43 to hit 465 by Thursday, representing the smallest rise in the number of deaths since last week. However, alongside there was the biggest increase in the number of infections across the UK up 1,542 to 9,529.
The number of cases and deaths is expected to keep rising as the UK works on trying to flatten the curve of the pandemic following a nationwide lockdown enforced by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday.
Imperial College Professor Neil Ferguson, whose work on the epidemic has informed the government's policy, said his research team is "moderately confident" that demand for intensive care beds will peak in two-and-a-half to three weeks' time if the measures have the desired effect.
We are going to have a very difficult few weeks but we think overall with the capacity being rapidly put in place that whilst the health system will be stressed it won't break, he said.
Meanwhile, the government has ordered 10,000 ventilators from Dyson known for vacuum cleaners to help deal with the coronavirus crisis. The firm, headed by British inventor Sir James Dyson, said it had designed a new type of ventilator in response to a call on behalf of the NHS.
I will do everything I can to ensure our dedicated staff have whatever they need during this unprecedented time, said UK health secretary Matt Hancock.
A waiver of parking fees for NHS and social care staff and speeding up supplies of urgent personal protection equipment (PPE) are among some of the steps being put in place.
Meanwhile, Public Health England (PHE) has said that final tests on finger-prick testing kits should be completed in the coming days. Such a test, which can be carried out by individuals in their homes, will be able to determine if someone has or has already had COVID-19.
The UK's chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, warned rigorous testing needs to take place before the kits are available to the public, saying: The one thing that is worse than no test, is a bad test."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described these tests as a total game-changer as the government ordered 3.5 million testing kits from at least three commercial suppliers.
Several million tests have been purchased for use. We need to evaluate them in the laboratory, because these are brand new products, to be clear that they work as they are claimed to, Professor Sharon Peacock from Public Health England, told the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee on Wednesday
"Once they have been tested, and that will happen this week, and the bulk of the tests arrive, they will be distributed into the community in which there will be a mechanism to order a test via Amazon, performed at home and then sent back to see whether they're positive or negative, Peacock said.
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