More than a quarter of new coronavirus cases across the region – and up to 70 per cent in some areas – now stem from the fast-spreading variant that has left hospitals in London overwhelmed, with parts of Yorkshire seeing “scary” rises of more than 60 per cent in a week.
Sheffield consultant Daniele Bryden said it was not too late for Yorkshire to avoid the scenes in London but the region’s intensive-care teams had less “wiggle room”to cope with a surge in demand than those in the capital after months of working flat out dealing with Covid patients.
And despite case rates in the region being lower than in the capital, a nurse said seeing the new variant in Yorkshire felt like watching a tsunami coming from the beach but not being able to run away.
The warnings came as it emerged that a further 1,325 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, the highest number of UK deaths reported on a single day since the outbreak began. A further 47 deaths were announced in Yorkshire hospitals.
With more than 1.5m people vaccinated so far, a third coronavirus vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, it was announced yesterday, but doses will not be available until the spring.
Dr Bryden, a consultant in intensive-care medicine at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said: “People may feel, ‘Well if [the rise in cases] is going to come, there’s nothing we can do about it’ but actually we really can because the vaccine is very close in terms of the number of people we can get vaccinated and the implications that might have for us in the spring.
“We’ve got the opportunity to actually do something in the week that’s just gone and the week ahead that will have an impact towards the end of January. So that’s when it becomes really, really important, because it’s like a pressure cooker.
“The more you keep putting into the system, it will come under more and more pressure. So we need to make sure we keep infection rates down so that less goes into the system in terms of people who need to have hospital treatment.”
Deborah Harkins, Calderdale’s Director of Public Health, said in her district the number of cases had risen 63 per cent in a week – an increase she described as “scary”.
She said a “superhuman effort” was now needed and that if people locally became complacent the situation in Calderdale could become as bad as elsewhere in the country.
Her counterpart in Bradford, where up to 70 per cent of cases are now from the new strain, said people needed to refocus on washing their hands, wearing face masks when required and ensuring space from others.
Sarah Muckle said: “When Covid measures were first introduced we were all very careful about staying safe – but now there is a danger that we may have let our standards slip almost a year into this crisis.”
'Think about what we were doing in the spring and do that even more'
A leading Yorkshire health official says her district is on the same trajectory as the areas of the country where coronavirus is surging out of control after several days of “frightening increases” in the number of cases.
Deborah Harkins, Director of Public Health for Calderdale, said people in the district and across Yorkshire needed to be even more strict than they were last spring about ‘hands, face, space’ habits to limit the spread of Covid-19 because of the dangerous new variant.
Rates across Yorkshire’s local authorities are still some way below those in London and the South East where a major incident has been declared, but Ms Harkins said the situation was “deteriorating really quickly”.
She said that while case numbers in Calderdale had increased 63 per cent in a week, other parts of the country had seen their rates triple in the same period.
She added: “If we all really make a superhuman effort, there is still time for us to prevent us getting into the same situation as we’re seeing in some other parts of the country.
“We are on that same trajectory but earlier in the curve. This new variant, because it spreads so much more easily than the previous variant, if we all think back to what we were doing in the spring we need to do a bit more than that because of the new variant.
“It’s easy in West Yorkshire and in Calderdale particularly to think ‘we’ve got some of the lowest rates in the country, that’s brilliant’ but actually we’re on that same trajectory.
“And if we do get complacent in any way, I’m afraid we will see in Calderdale what we’re seeing in some other parts of the country.”
Her message was echoed by West Yorkshire Prepared, the region’s Local Resilience Forum, which met on Thursday in light of increasing Covid-19 rates across the region and the presence of the new variant in local communities.
Robin Tuddenham, co-Chair of West Yorkshire Prepared and Chief Executive of Calderdale Council, said: “It is a very serious and stark situation. At the moment, we have a very small window of time in which to take action – so it is imperative that we act now.”
National restrictions introduced on January 5 as part of the third lockdown, require everyone to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. This means people should work from home if they can and only leave the house or garden for essential reasons.
There were 16,555 coronavirus cases recorded in Yorkshire and The Humber in the seven days to January 2, the latest available figures and of those cases, 27 per cent were estimated to be genetically compatible with the new variant.
The reproductive rate – the R rate – of the virus is now thought to be between one and 1.4. The R refers to the number of people an infected person will pass the virus onto.
And it emerged yesterday that more than half of all major hospital trusts in England currently have more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the first wave of the virus.
In the North most trusts are still below their first-wave peak, however. An exception was Hull University Teaching Hospitals, where the number stood at 208 on January 5 compared with a first-wave peak of 112.