Covid-19: London Ambulance Service receives as many 999 calls as first wave

London Ambulance Service (LAS) received as many emergency calls on 26 December as it did at the height of the first wave of Covid-19, the BBC has learned.

Nearly 8,000 calls were received, a 40% increase on a typical “busy” day.

Patient demand was “now arguably greater” than during the first wave, an internal message to all staff said.

LAS said it was “working urgently” to reduce delays. It urged people only to dial 999 with genuine life-threatening emergencies and to use 111 if possible.

The rapid spread of the new variant of Covid-19 was said to be the cause of the increased demand, according to the message.

The UK reported another 30,501 positive tests on Sunday, and 316 deaths of people who had tested positive within the past 28 days.

One paramedic told the BBC that some patients were being treated in ambulance bays upon arrival at hospital, due to a lack of beds inside.

“It’s been a horrendous time,” the paramedic said. “Ambulance staff are finding the whole situation very stressful.”

Figures seen by the BBC show that at one London hospital on Sunday morning, ambulance crews were typically waiting nearly six hours to hand over patients to hospital staff.

Levels of patient demand were equal “and now arguably greater” than those seen during the first wave of the pandemic, according to the all-staff message sent by LAS chief executive Garrett Emmerson.

On 26 December, LAS received 7,918 calls, while on 16 March – one of its busiest ever days – it received marginally more.

“The demand is occurring because of the rapid spread of the new variant of the Covid-19 virus, initially in north-east London, but now spreading into north central London and predicted to spread further across the rest of the capital in the coming days and weeks”, the memo read.

The NHS 111 service was twice as busy as usual in London, the message added.

London Ambulance Service said it was working to find ways of alleviating pressures.

It said private ambulance services, student paramedics, volunteers and the London Fire Brigade had been recruited to supplement its crews in order to provide as many ambulances as possible with two staff members.

LAS was also receiving assistance from South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), East of England Ambulance Service and St John Ambulance.

Non-patient facing colleagues with clinical skills have also been moved to work frontline shifts.

A separate message sent to ambulance crews on 26 December requested them, when it was safe to do so, to transport all patients to hospital on blue flashing lights in order to “reduce travel times”.

Usually only the most seriously unwell patients are taken to hospital in this way.

In a statement, LAS said: “Like NHS organisations across the country, demand for our services has risen sharply over the past weeks.

“Our colleagues in emergency departments are also under pressure receiving our patients as quickly as they can. We are working urgently with NHS partners to reduce any delays.

“The public can support us by only calling 999 for life-threatening emergencies. For urgent medical advice go to: 111.nhs.uk.”

The capital has the highest coronavirus infection rate of any UK region, with 794.6 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days.

On Sunday, it reported another 9,719 infections.

Brexit deal: Guernsey backs UK agreement

Guernsey deputies have voted unanimously to include the island in the UK’s Brexit agreement with the EU.

The States Assembly voted for the new trade deal to be extended to Guernsey and for the UK Government to ratify it on the island’s behalf.

Guernsey’s most senior politician, Deputy Peter Ferbrache, said the island would be “entering a world of great opportunity”.

Alderney and Sark are also discussing their positions on the Brexit deal.

The agreement was reached on Christmas Eve after months of fraught talks on issues including fishing rights and business rules.

MPs will vote on the deal in Parliament on 30 December.

Covid-19: UK records 30,000 new cases and 316 deaths

A further 30,501 positive tests for coronavirus were reported on Sunday, as hospitals in parts of the UK warn they are at risk of being overwhelmed.

Another 316 people died within 28 days of a positive test, bringing the total to 70,752.

The true numbers are likely to be higher as some parts of the UK are not reporting data.

Northern Ireland has not reported cases or deaths and Scotland has not reported deaths.

It comes as doctors in Scotland warned that the health system was “severely stretched” and a Welsh hospital made an urgent appeal for help with Covid-19 patients on Boxing Day.

Wales recorded 70 deaths on Sunday of people who had contracted coronavirus.

London Ambulance Service said it had been dealing with more than 400 calls an hour on Sunday afternoon and urged people to only call 999 in an emergency.

The capital has the highest coronavirus infection rate of any UK region, with 794.6 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days. On Sunday, it reported another 9,719 infections.

£1.8m lottery winner in West Lothian still to claim cash

The holder of a £1.8m EuroMillions lottery prize has still to claim their winnings.

Players are being urged to check their tickets after one that was bought in West Lothian scooped the sum in the 11 December draw.

The ticket, which matched the five main numbers and one lucky star number, is worth a total of £1,886,380.

If no-one comes forward to claim the winning ticket the money will go to good causes.

Camelot’s Andy Carter, a senior winners’ advisor at The National Lottery, said the ticket holder has until 9 June next year to claim their prize.

He said: “We’re desperate to find this mystery ticket holder and unite them with their winnings.

“We’re urging everyone who bought a ticket in this area to check their old EuroMillions tickets again or look anywhere a missing ticket could be hiding.”

Storm Bella: York erects flood defences as River Ouse levels rise

Flood defences are being put in place in York as River Ouse water levels are expected to rise to about four metres above normal early on Monday.

The city council said sandbag barriers were being erected and flood boards installed in the wake of Storm Bella.

The Ouse peaked at 4.35m (14ft) above normal after heavy rainfall associated with Storm Ciara in February.

City of York Council said it had “acted early to put in place defences to protect those areas most affected”.

Back in 2015 water levels reached 5.2m (17ft) above normal.

Sandbag barriers were being built at Clementhorpe, Tower Gardens and Tower Street.

A pump was also being provided to clear any water.

Flood defence boards were being put in place at Peckitt Street.

St George’s Field car park has been closed, while Rowntree Park will be open for part of Sunday, but closed on Monday, the council said.

The authority said riverside paths in the city and access roads in Poppleton and Naburn were expected to be affected.

The council said: “With no more rain predicted [on Sunday], the river level is expected to slowly decline after peaking in the early hours of [Monday].

“The council will not be issuing sandbags to properties unless the forecast levels rise.”

Councillor Paula Widdowson, executive member for climate change, said: “The expected levels are lower than we saw in February this year.

“We’re putting in place the local and citywide flood defences, and any residents or businesses at risk of flooding should also put their own flood plans in place.

“It’ll be Covid-secure business as usual for York on what is shaping up to be a gloriously clear day.”

Manchester city-centre rave condemned by police

Police have condemned about 100 people who attended a city-centre rave.

Officers were alerted to loud music and an illegal gathering at unoccupied flats in Hanover Street in Manchester’s Shudehill area at about 04:20 GMT.

Police issued £1,000 fixed penalty notices to two men, aged 17 and 18, and seized music equipment.

A 27-year-old man arrested on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence remains in custody. He was also given a £200 fixed penalty notice.

“There is no denying the blatant breach of Covid legislation that took place,” said Ch Insp Colin MacDiarmid of Greater Manchester Police.

“Enquiries are ongoing to ensure the organisers of this gathering are held accountable for their unacceptable actions.”

He said it was “clear that the people at this gathering weren’t just people from Manchester but from across the North West of England”.

“The majority of people in Manchester have made tremendously difficult sacrifices over the Christmas period and have complied with the [social distancing] rules that we all have to follow.

“However, it is the minority of people who attend events such as this that risk undoing the hard work of everyone else.”

Brexit impact on food prices very modest – Tesco

Any changes to food prices after Brexit are likely to be “very modest indeed” under the deal struck between the UK and the EU, the chairman of Tesco has said.

John Allan told the BBC that it would “hardly be felt in terms of the prices that consumers are paying”.

He said the deal was a “good outcome” and far better than no deal.

But he said the main benefit was that it removes a distraction from business and government.

When reports last month suggested that there might not be a post-Brexit trade deal, Mr Allan had warned that food prices could rise between 3% and 5%.

But he told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that the deal agreed this week meant any noticeable changes in food costs for consumers were unlikely.

“The tariffs were the things that were going to generate the price increases,” he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the deal ensures “tariff-free” trade between the UK and EU.

Mr Allan said: “There’ll be a little bit more administration associated with importing and exporting. But in absolute terms, I think that will hardly be felt in terms of the prices the consumers are paying.”

He said UK companies would be able to cope with the additional work involved in the customs regime, with the possible exception of some small businesses.

But 70% of small businesses only trading with the EU, and not further afield, many of them may be dealing with customs paperwork for the first time, Mr Allan warned.

If the deal had not been struck, the Tesco chairman had previously suggested Brexit might change what Britons eat, as the prices of imported food such as brie cheese could have risen by up to 40%.

But Mr Allan suggested that Brexit would now only have a “marginal effect” on what shoppers put in their trolleys.

The deal should also make it easier for businesses to cope with some of the new customs issues between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr Allan said he was confident the deal “will not obstruct our ability to keep our NI supermarkets supplied”.

“All the detail is not clear, but we were well set up, even if there was no deal, to continue to supply our NI supermarkets,” he said. “I think that will be even easier now.”

Any change to “intra-Ireland” trade, including agricultural businesses that operate north and south of the border, would be “marginal”, he said.

Mr Allan said he did not see any major advantages to the supermarket industry of any new freedoms as a result leaving the EU, however.

“Certainly Tesco – and I assume our competitors – we’re very keen to maintain food standards,” he said.

“We won’t be seeking food from other countries that have different and potentially lower food standards than us, so I don’t think it’s going to make any material difference.”

He suggested the main benefit to the UK government and business would be the removal of Brexit as “a major distraction” as the country tries to recover from the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.

“It should enable us to address the challenges and opportunities our economy has got in a much more full-blooded way,” Mr Allan said.

Covid: Record weekly rates in parts of Essex

Parts of Essex have recorded the highest weekly coronavirus case rates since the pandemic began.

In the week leading up to 21 December, Brentwood, Epping Forest and Thurrock all had rates of more than 1,350 cases per 100,000 people.

The previous highest weekly rate recorded was in Nottingham in October.

A spokesman for Essex County Council said increased testing on top of an already high infection rate meant the figures “are not a surprise”.

Brentwood’s rate of 1,419 cases per 100,000 people in the week up to 21 December is now the highest recorded across England since the start of the pandemic.

The figures from the government’s coronavirus database show there were 1,376 cases in Epping Forest and 1,361 cases in Thurrock per 100,000 people during the same week.

There was 1,336 cases per 100,000 people in Nottingham in the week leading up to 8 October.

“Essex’s infection rates per 100,000 population were already among some of the highest being recorded,” the council spokesman said.

“We have recently increased our testing capacity particularly in the south of the county where rates have been high and as this will have identified more cases, the figures are not a surprise.”

The spokesman said the county’s public health teams had been “focussed in recent weeks on testing people without symptoms, and has opened three lateral flow device testing centres, with several more due to open in the next two weeks”.

He said encouraging people to get tested “is a central part of our strategy to break the chain of transmission, but inevitably means that more positive cases will be identified”.

Last week, five of the top 10 areas with the highest rate of Covid-19 infections were in Essex.

The whole of the county was moved into tier four restrictions on 24 December.

The restrictions are similar to the last national lockdown and include:

Covid in Scotland: Health leaders warn NHS could be overwhelmed

Clinicians are warning health services could be overwhelmed by any surge in coronavirus cases after restrictions were temporarily eased over Christmas.

The Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties also said the new faster spreading strain of the virus could create a “perfect storm”.

They warned it could take months for vaccinations to alleviate pressure on the “severely stretched” system.

They have called for “every possible measure” to halt the virus.

The organisation, which includes anaesthetists, GPs and surgeons, said the short term situation for the NHS remained “bleak”, despite hope from the vaccine.

The warning comes a day after the Scottish government put mainland Scotland into level four restrictions in response to the new more transmissible strain of coronavirus.

In Dumfries and Galloway health officials said they feared the new strain could be driving a “rapid increase” in infections in the area after 64 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Wigtownshire.

While reports have indicated the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could be approved within days, the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties said restrictions would still be needed for some time.

In a statement they said: “We know there is hope on the horizon with the rollout of a national immunisation programme, with further vaccines likely to be approved shortly.

“However, it will take months for this to make a significant difference, and the short-term situation facing our NHS and public health services remains bleak.”

They said the NHS and social care services across Scotland were now on an emergency footing and while work had been done to reduce infection rates, the new strain of the virus would add pressure in the days and weeks ahead.

“We are gravely concerned that this could lead to the NHS being overwhelmed,” the organisation said.

They called on the public to recognise the severity of the situation and take the necessary steps to support health and social care services.

“Our general practices are exceptionally busy and our hospitals are already near capacity. We risk facing a perfect storm of challenges if we don’t take collective action now to prevent further spread of Covid-19.”

They urged the Scottish government to consider all potential measures to reduce community transmission of the virus and said it was vital the public continued to maintain social distancing and the wearing of face masks regardless of whether interactions with others took place inside or outside.

Teen critically injured in Stockport police vehicle crash

A 15-year-old boy is critically ill after he was hit by a police vehicle responding to a call out.

Officers were heading to a report of a domestic disturbance when the boy was struck on Garners Lane, Stockport, at about 21:30 GMT on Saturday, Greater Manchester Police said.

The officers stopped and administered trauma care to the boy until an ambulance arrived, a spokesman said.

He was taken to hospital where he is in a critical state with a head injury.

The incident has been referred by GMP to its Professional Standards Branch, which has launched an investigation, and the Independent Office for Police Conduct.