Hospital cases with Covid are expected to rise further, according to a health chief who told of her concerns about the ability to treat other illnesses as a result.
Dame Jenny Harries said it does not look as though the current wave has peaked, and urged people to “go about their normal lives” but in a “precautionary way”.
The UK Health Security Agency chief executive’s comments come days after the latest figures showed Covid-19 infections in the UK had jumped by more than half a million in a week.
NHS Providers said hospital trust leaders “know they are in for a bumpy ride over the coming months” with variants of Covid-19 alongside the normal seasonal flu pressures which could hit earlier than usual this year.
Dame Jenny told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “It doesn’t look as though that wave has finished yet, so we would anticipate that hospital cases will rise. And it’s possible, quite likely, that they will actually peak over the previous BA.2 wave.
“But I think the overall impact, we won’t know. It’s easy to say in retrospect, it’s not so easy to model forward.”
She said the majority of cases in the UK now are BA.4 and BA.5 and that the latter is “really pushing and driving this current wave”.
She added that people should “go about their normal lives but in that precautionary way”, highlighting handwashing, keeping distance where possible and wearing a face covering in enclosed, poorly ventilated places.
She said she has not been routinely wearing a face mask, but she does routinely carry one and would wear it on the Tube and if she was with someone who was “quite anxious” about Covid.
Speaking about masks, she said: “If I’ve got any respiratory infection it’s a good thing to do and I think it’s a new lesson for the country.”
Asked if it matters that a lot of people are getting infected with Covid, she said that aside from the effect on individuals, it also “matters on a national basis”.
“Whilst we have an armament now of vaccines and antiviral treatments, we do have, as you’ve just highlighted, a rise in hospital admissions and occupancy,” she said.
“And that means it’s not just Covid that we’re concerned about, but it’s actually our ability to treat other illnesses as well.”
A total of 2.3 million people in private households are estimated to have had the virus last week, up 32% from a week earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This is the highest estimate for total infections since late April, but is still some way below the record of 4.9 million at the peak of the Omicron BA.2 wave at the end of March.
Dame Jenny appealed to the “nearly 20% of the 75-plus year-old group” who have not had their spring booster to come forward.
The interim chief executive of NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services, said there is no room for complacency.
Saffron Cordery said: “Trust leaders know they are in for a bumpy ride over the coming months as they tackle new and unpredictable variants of Covid-19 alongside grappling with seasonal flu pressures which may hit us earlier than usual this year.
“The policy of living with Covid does not mean Covid has gone away. The latest data shows we cannot afford to be complacent with currently small but concerning increases over the past week in the number of patients both being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 and those needing a ventilator.
“Warnings from Dr Jenny Harries today that community infection rates and hospital admissions are expected to rise further is concerning.
“Waves of Covid-19 and flu will put additional pressure on stretched NHS staff and services and their efforts to tackle waiting lists, deliver efficiencies and transform the NHS, as well as on our hard-pressed colleagues in social care.”
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