Jeremy Hunt Piles On Pressure For Tougher Coronavirus Measures As Scotland Announces Full Lockdown
Jeremy Hunt said the government must lock down fully to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed (PA)
The longest-serving health secretary of all time Jeremy Hunt has warned the government must “close schools, borders and ban all household mixing right away” in England to deal with spiralling pressures on the NHS.
The Conservative former Cabinet minister, and Boris Johnson's main leadership rival, warned the issues facing hospitals as they deal with the impact of record numbers of Covid-19 cases are "off-the-scale worse" than previous winter crises.
It comes as Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed the country is to go into a full lockdown from midnight tonight for the whole of January saying she is “more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year”.
Boris Johnson is due to give a televised address at 8pm tonight in which tougher measures for England are expected.
In a twitter thread this lunchtime Mr Hunt wrote: "Time to act: thread on why we need to close schools, borders, and ban all household mixing RIGHT AWAY".
He rebuffed claims the strain on the NHS was consistent with annual winter pressures.
"To those arguing winter is always like this in the NHS: you are wrong," Hunt continued.
“I faced four serious winter crises as health secretary and the situation now is off-the-scale worse than any of those."
Hunt, also the chairman of the health and social care select committee, has added his voice to opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer and other calling on the government to go further than the current tier system, and to not wait to do so as the average number of coronavirus deaths rose above 500 for the past week.
He added: ”It's true that we often had to cancel elective care in January to protect emergency care but that too is under severe pressure with record trolley waits for the very sickest patients.
"Even more worryingly fewer heart attack patients appear to be presenting in ICUs, perhaps because they are not dialling 999 when they need to.
"Full credit to NHS for keeping cancer services open but in Wave 1 there was still a two-thirds drop in cancer appointments: people didn't come forward to GPs or want to go to hospitals, with many potentially avoidable cancer deaths.
“We hoped to avoid that this time but now looking unlikely.”
But Boris Johnson insisted this morning the risk to teachers was no greater than to anyone else, and said the argument for keeping schools open was “powerful”.
However the Prime Minister said tougher measures to tackle the new more transmissible Covid strains will be announced soon as he visited a hospital in north London to meet some of the first people to receive the newly-approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
"If you look at the numbers there's no question we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course,” he added.
Mr Johnson also said one of the things he looked back on with the greatest misgivings about the first wave of the pandemic was closing primary schools, as it is “so important for young people to get an education”.
He added: “That's why closing primary schools is, for all of us, a last resort. That's why we are looking at everything else we can possibly do to avoid that.
"I would stress schools are safe and the risk to kids is very, very small."
And the PM said: "We will do everything we can to keep the virus under control and people should be in no doubt that the Government will do everything that's necessary.
"But I must stress at this critical moment it is so vital that people keep disciplined."
Downing Street later explained the government is waiting to see the impact of moving much more of England into tier 4 before deciding on which further measures would be needed.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It is a bit unclear still at the moment.
"I have always said we would continue to look at the latest evidence and data and that is what we base our decisions on.
"We have always said that we would take the measures needed to reduce the spread of the virus and we will continue to do."
In an address to a freshly recalled Scottish Parliament this afternon, Sturgeon revealed that local patient capacity is already beginning to strain at some health boards.
The First Minister said NHS Ayrshire and Arran currently at 96% capacity, while Borders, Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Lanarkshire are above 60%.
"It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year,” she told MSPs at Holyrood.
Ms Sturgeon said modelling by the Scottish Government predicted that without action Covid-19 capacity in hospitals would be overrun within "three or four weeks".
Explaining her decision to reimpose a full lockdown she added: "We have an opportunity in Scotland to avert the situation here deteriorating to that extent. But we must act quickly.”
From Tuesday Scots will be legally required to stay at home for the rest of the month, although the First Minister warned: "However, I cannot at this stage rule out keeping them in place longer, nor making further changes.
“Nothing about this is easy."