Major incident declared in London as Sadiq Khan warns of ‘critical’ Covid threat facing hospitals

Published: 8 January 2021

Post Desk : A major incident was declared across London today as the number of Covid cases and sick patients in hospital hit “critical” levels.

Mayor Sadiq Khan made the emergency declaration to fast-track national help for the NHS, which he said was “on the cusp of being overwhelmed” and running out of beds. The virus is “out of control” in the capital, he said, and Londoners are under orders to obey the lockdown and not mix over the weekend.

There are more than 7,000 Covid patients in London hospitals — almost 2,000 more than the first peak last April — and almost 1,000 are on ventilators.

Intensive care doctors said people aged 19 to 30 were being hospitalised with the new “Kent strain” of the virus and issued an alert to critical care colleagues across mainland Europe. A further 10,000 Londoners tested positive for Covid yesterday and the seven-day rate of 1,035.9 cases per 100,000 people is by some distance the highest in the country.

In another alarming development, infections are soaring in older Londoners, which will inevitably add to the death toll. By last night, 9,306 Londoners had died within 28 days of a positive test and 78,508 across the UK. In other key developments:

The number of cases in Londoners over 60 has quadrupled since early December, with many having caught the disease over Christmas.
Doctors warned that critical care nurses were close to burn out and were being stretched so thinly that there was a “very, very real risk” of patients suffering harm.
They said there was “no evidence” that high-pressure oxygen CPAP face masks offered better outcomes than invasive ventilation, with some patients deteriorating rapidly after long periods on CPAP.
New research indicated that the Pfizer vaccine may be effective against the Kent and South African variants.
The number of coronavirus “incidents” in care homes in the capital has risen, with 99 in the most recent week.
The Royal London, the capital’s biggest hospital, has more than 120 patients in intensive care and space for about 30 more. One doctor last night said he was unsure how they would cope if the number breached 150, amid fears that critical care will have to be rationed.

Professor Rupert Pearse told the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine that doctors had been “horrified” at the recent rise in cases in London.

He said: “The situation is genuinely serious. The workload is phenomenal. In my hospital we have more than 120 ICU patients. We are hoping that will stop at about 150 but we don’t know.

“If it rises beyond this number I’m really not sure what we are going to do. We don’t have a solution developed for that situation. But we know we will be expected to carry on taking these patients.”

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, last night admitted that there was a “material risk” that London hospitals could be overwhelmed in the next 21 days. He said that the scale of admissions was equivalent to filling St Thomas’ Hospital on a daily basis.

Mr Khan, who declared the major incident as chair of the London resilience forum, said today: “The situation in London is now critical with the spread of the virus out of control.

“Our heroic doctors, nurses and NHS staff are doing an amazing job, but with cases rising so rapidly, our hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed. The stark reality is that we will run out of beds for patients in the next couple of weeks unless the spread of the virus slows down drastically.

“We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point. If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die.” London is thought to have last declared a city-wide major incident after the 7/7 terror attacks in 2005.

“Londoners continue to make huge sacrifices and I am today imploring them to please stay at home, unless it is absolutely necessary,” Mr Khan said.

Among the over-sixties, the number of cases since early December has risen to more than 12,000 in the week to January 2. The seven-day rate for individuals 60 and over is rising as quickly, if not slightly faster, than for people below this age.

In a reversal of the situation during the pandemic’s first wave, the head of the UK’s Intensive Care Society, Dr Stephen Webb, warned doctors in Italy and across the Continent: “Get ready. This is serious. This is more challenging than wave one.” Despite the bleak immediate outlook, there were signs that the surge in cases in London, driven by the new strain, may be peaking, with 10,150 new cases announced yesterday, a fall on recent days.