Covid restrictions could be reintroduced if rising cases impact NHS backlog, minister says

Credit: PA

Covid restrictions could be reintroduced if a rising number of cases has an impact on the NHS backlog, a minister has said, amid fears the numbers are likely to carry on rising throughout July. The latest official data shows that 2.7 million people in private households are estimated to have had Covid-19 over the last week, up 18% from 2.3 million the previous week. In the House of Lords, peers questioned what the government was prepared to do in the face of surging infections. Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said: “Can I ask him this, he said earlier that the incident rise is now leading to increased hospitalisations. What impact is that now having on the backlog?” Health minister Lord Kamall replied: “I asked this very same question when I had the meeting with the UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) officials earlier on. “They are still focusing on the backlog. If it gets to a point where it is affecting the backlog then clearly measures may well have to be introduced.”

The minister had earlier told peers: “We continue to see Covid-19 case rates and hospitalisations rising in all age groups, with the largest increases in hospitalisations and ICU admissions in those aged 75 and older. “The largest proportion of those hospitalised are for reasons other than Covid, however Covid is identified due to the increasing case rates in the community and the high rate of testing in hospital, including among those with no respiratory systems. “Current data does not point to cases becoming more severe.”

His comments come as the number of people in hospital in England who tested positive for Covid-19 climbed to its highest level for nearly three months on July 11, reaching 13,336.

The last time the figure was this high was in late April, and it is close to the peak of 16,600 reached during the previous wave of infections in the spring.Opening the debate on Monday, Labour health spokeswoman Baroness Merron said the government - which is gripped by a leadership race following on from Boris Johnson's resignation - had “been noticeably silent, perhaps being somewhat distracted”. She asked if ministers were planning to run a campaign highlighting rising cases and the benefits of getting a Covid vaccine, as well as whether the government would consider reintroducing mandatory mask-wearing in hospitals.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

“We might be through the worst of Covid but it evidently hasn’t gone away,” Lady Merron added. Lord Kamall replied: “We are always ready to stand up measures should the case rates rise so much that our health system was under pressure, but also what we have managed to do is break the link between infections and hospitalisations, and hospitalisations and death. “If that gets out of control then of course we will stand up the measures that we have previously.” Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paddick asked: “Why does the government not reintroduce free Covid tests for everyone in England and financial support for those who do the right thing and self-isolate, especially in the face of the cost-of-living crisis?” Lord Kamall replied that some in the health system believed future Covid cash would be “better spent elsewhere given the backlog due to lockdown” rather than on free tests for all, adding: “It is always a difficult trade off between where you spend this money.” He went on: “All this will continue to be monitored. Should the number of cases spiral out of control then clearly we would look to reintroduce free testing at some stage if it needed that.”