Katy Balls

Covid sparks a major incident in London

Covid sparks a major incident in London
(Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
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Is the NHS at risk of being overwhelmed? That's a question of increasing concern in Westminster as hospital admissions rise. Sadiq Khan has today declared a 'major incident' in London — calling the situation 'critical' with the spread of the virus 'out of control'. 

With the coronavirus infection rate in London now exceeding 1,000 per 100,000 people, Khan said that the London Ambulance Service was currently taking up to 8,000 emergency calls a day (compared to 5,500 typical for a busy day). It comes as the reported daily death toll on Thursday — 1,162 — reached the highest recorded since April. There’s little, too, to suggest things are about to improve anytime soon. A leak to the Health Service Journal suggested London hospitals could be overwhelmed within a fortnight. 

The concern in government is that the capital could soon be facing unprecedented admissions. In the Covid Operations meeting on Monday ahead of Johnson’s national lockdown announcement, the chart that stopped ministers in their tracks was the one which compared the data of where we are now with the data back in March.

As I say in today's Evening Standard, the rapid spread of the virus also risks hindering the vaccine rollout plan. If the NHS is overwhelmed, it will create new logistical challenges, from fewer vaccination centres to infections among those tasked with administering the jab. Any decision to ease the lockdown will not be based on reaching vaccination targets alone (which ministers admit will not have an immediate effect as there will be a time lag), it will come down to hospital capacity and demand.