Boris Johnson Warns Hospitals on Brink as U.K. Deaths Hit Record
Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister, delivers a speech outside number 10 Downing Street in London, U.K. (Photographer: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg)  

Boris Johnson Warns Hospitals on Brink as U.K. Deaths Hit Record

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned intensive care units could be overwhelmed as the country hit its highest daily coronavirus death toll since the pandemic began.

The premier said there is a “very substantial” risk of intensive care capacity in hospitals being “over-topped,” and urged people to follow lockdown rules to curb the spread of the disease.

The U.K. reported a further 1,564 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test Wednesday, the highest number in a single day. It brings the total British death toll so far to 84,767.

Boris Johnson Warns Hospitals on Brink as U.K. Deaths Hit Record

“We’re in for a pretty grim period, I’m afraid,” U.K. Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said on ITV’s “Peston.” “We’re in a period of high death numbers that’s going to carry on for some weeks.”

England is currently in the second week of its third national lockdown amid a sharp rise in infections and hospitalizations in recent weeks. Schools are closed to most pupils, restaurants and non-essential shops shuttered, and people ordered to stay at home.

The closures threaten to tip the economy into a double dip recession, prompting the government to hand out billions of pounds in additional aid to businesses.

Despite the lockdown, Johnson’s government has faced calls to go further amid concerns the current rules are not working. Medical services are under intense pressure to treat an influx of patients, with more than 36,000 people in the hospital with the virus, according to the latest data, including almost 3,500 on ventilators.

Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said there have “now been more deaths in the second wave than the first.”

Johnson told a panel of lawmakers on Wednesday there are 70% more inpatients than at the peak of the pandemic in April.

“The risk is very substantial, and we have to keep the pressure off the NHS,” he said when pressed on intensive care capacity. “The only way to do that is follow the current lockdown.”

There are signs the national lockdown is working, he said, with a “flattening, leveling off” of cases in some areas -- but it is “far, far too early” to say lockdown rules could be relaxed in mid-February as initially planned.

A new strain of the disease from Brazil is a cause for concern and the government is looking at measures to prevent it being imported into the U.K., Johnson added.

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