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11th Jul 2022

Brits might have to go back to wearing masks, health minister warns

Charlie Herbert

covid hospital admissions could see some measures reintroduced

Lord Syed Kamall said that the healthcare backlog would impact decisions

A health minister has suggested that some covid measures could be reintroduced to curb the surging number of cases.

Lord Syed Kamall said measures such as free lateral flow tests and mandatory face masks could return if the number of hospital admissions starts to impede on the ability of the NHS to treat other patients and conditions.

In recent weeks, covid-19 cases have surged across the country, reaching the highest levels in months. Hospitalisations have also been on the rise, and at the start of July this number passed 10,000 for the first time since April.

Lord Kamall, a junior health minister, was being asked questions in the House of Lords about what the government was prepared to do if cases continued to rise.

One Labour peer asked him what impact the rise in hospitalisations was having on the backlog of patients the NHS is dealing with.

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 latest daily figure for hospitalisation is from July 4, when there were 1,911 covid admissions across England.

Hospitalisation rates are predicted to continue to rise. If daily admissions surpass 2,100, this will be the highest number since January 2021, when there were more than 4,000 daily admissions at the peak of the deadly second wave.

However, around two thirds of these are known as “incidental” cases, where people went to hospital for a different reason and happened to already have the virus or catch it whilst they were there.

At the end of June, more than 2.7m people in Britain were estimated to have been infected with covid. This is the equivalent of one in 25 people.

The rise in hospitalisations has already led some NHS trusts to reintroduce mandatory mask-wearing, including Sherwood Forest Hospitals and Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

Case and hospitalisation rates have risen across all age groups, with the biggest increases in the those aged 75 or older, something that Lord Kamall pointed out to peers.

He said: “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. Current data does not point to cases becoming more severe.”

When asked whether the government were planning on running any sort of campaign to raise awareness about rising cases, Lord Kamall said: “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.”

He also admitted that the government would look at reintroducing free testing if the number of cases “spiral out of control,” but that there had to be a “trade off between where you spend this money.”

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