The North of England is bracing for a devastating COVID-19 wave as the new variant continues to spread across the UK.
The mutant coronavirus strain was first detected in the South East before Christmas and has been found to be 70% more transmissible.
Several London hospitals like UCH and the Royal London have issued desperate pleas for more staff in the last 24 hours as COVID wards fill up rapidly.
Yesterday, NHS England said a further 420 deaths in the UK were reported and 50,668 cases were confirmed.
Meanwhile, England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that COVID vaccine shortages “will last for months” despite the newly approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine improving supply issues.
Now several experts and public officials are warning that the North will be hit hard by the surging COVID wave in the coming weeks.
Dr Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said she feared the added pressures being seen at London hospitals in dealing with the volume of coronavirus patients had started to spread across the country.
Asked whether the problems were becoming more "widespread", she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "That's what appears to be happening.
"Everyone has seen what is happening in London and the pressure that is putting both on organisations and on staff as well, and we fear it is only a matter of time before it starts to spread to other parts of the country, and we are already starting to see that.
"It is really important that we try and stop the transmission in the community because that translates into hospital admissions."
Dr Pittard said staff had become "tired and exhausted" due to the increased workload following a number of hectic months dealing with coronavirus patients.
She added that moving patients to less busy hospitals for intensive care treatment was a "logistical nightmare" and took up additional staff time.
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Professor Dominic Harrison, director of Public Health for Blackburn with Darwen council also warned another wave is set to hit the North of England.
He wrote in the Lancashire Telegraph: “It now looks certain that we will see a third wave of COVID-19 – probably peaking in early February.
He continued: “The third wave and the new COVID variant are travelling fast. We have evidence that the new variant is present in Lancashire with some Pennine Lancashire areas seeing very big rises in the week up to 24th December – Blackburn with Darwen 33%, Pendle 25%, and Ribble Valley 52%.
“We can expect these rises in confirmed cases to generate rapidly rising hospital admissions over the coming weeks and East Lancashire Hospitals Trust is already under significant pressure on both staff and beds."
A senior ICU consultant in the North of England told the Mirror: "I have grave concerns for the next three months in how stretched we will be in acute services in the NHS.
"Our concern is that sections of society seem to be wilfully ignoring some of the instructions."
The doctor told the publication that said his ward was already struggling with the demand and severely understaffed, adding that it was often operating with just 12 staff when it usually required 19.
Professor Jim Naismith from Oxford University told media outlets that tougher lockdown measures are needed as the next few weeks are expected to be "nail-bitingly difficult".
Prof Naismith said: “Unless we do something different the new virus strain is going to continue to spread, more infections, more hospitalisations and more deaths."
Data from NHS England shows that, in the final week of December, there were 828 more patients in ICUs across England than in the same week last year.
Health officials and experts have also warned that the surge in patients may not yet include those who caught the virus over Christmas.
The situation is already dire in Northern Ireland, where bed occupancy in the health service is now at 100%, with ambulance crews braced for long delays.
Meanwhile, all of mainland Scotland and Skye remained under the highest curbs as 2021 began.
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