Hospitals are filling up with Covid patients - how worried should we be?

Credit: PA

How worried should we be right now about Covid-19?

Senior figures in the health service tell me they are looking ahead to winter deeply nervous and anxious. The reason for that is one simple statistic: there are currently 7,749 people in hospital with coronavirus right now.

As one person put it to me, that is 7,749 beds that aren’t available for people with other ailments, which is particularly nerve-wracking as we enter a period in which we could see spikes in other areas.

Throughout this pandemic that number has been key for the government, whose policies are seemingly wholly driven by attempts to protect the NHS from collapse.

And right now, it is the same as it was in the middle of October last year, which was just two weeks before we entered lockdown because of the fears of the NHS.

That is why so many people are now calling for Plan B – more masks, less mixing indoors and a work from home directive.

Those measures – known as non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI’s) are seen by many medics as low-cost options that needn’t be too disruptive and could slow the spread of Covid and so slow the rate of hospitalisations.

Although they know that vaccines mean we have far more protection in October 2021, than October 2020, health experts and scientists are nervous about waning immunity from our first and second jabs, with more and more people crossing six months since their last immunisation.

Also, some feel deeply frustrated that we are in the grip of a wave of Covid driven by teenagers, who they think should have been vaccinated during the summer to prevent a spike when schools reopened.

Then there is the question of the booster rollout, because the performance right now is not good enough.

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Currently, 7.9 million are eligible for their third jab (having passed the six-month mark) with another 1.9 million likely to be invited this week. So far 5.5 million have been invited to have their vaccination, and just under 4 million have done.

Clearly, that leaves a gap - and given these are the people who qualified for a vaccine early on, it is likely to include some of the more vulnerable groups – older people and others who were seen as clinically vulnerable.

Overall, 1.3 million vaccines are being given out a week (though it is increasing) compared to 2.2m who are crossing the six-month mark in the same time period.

The government has said they do not think hospitals will be overwhelmed Credit: PA

And yet, data from Israel, which is further ahead with third jabs, shows a remarkable impact- sharply reducing the number of cases as soon as the vaccinations were rolled out.

Ministers are more relaxed now than in October last year because, even with questions around immunity, the rate at which Covid is growing is significantly slower than last year.

So rather than having cases doubling every 12-13 days – they are doubling every 21-28 days. That gives ministers 3 or 4 weeks – or maybe double that - before hospitals face the possibility of getting overwhelmed.

This will be a relief, but they will still need to act fast to increase the rollout – in the face of alarmingly high case rates among kids.

Many scientists think plan B should be a given, because without it they fear we could end up requiring another lockdown – something that ministers will want to fiercely resist.