Downing Street has rejected calls by NHS chiefs for the return of Covid restrictions in England amid record infection rates.
A No10 spokeswoman said there would be no change to the current rules and ‘our living with Covid plan still stands’.
They added that Covid was now being managed like any other respiratory illness thanks to vaccines and drugs.
Last night the NHS Confederation accused ministers of ‘abandoning any interest in Covid whatsoever’ and called for ‘mitigating actions’ to tackle record infection rates.
The group, which acts as a representative for hospitals and ambulance trusts, has advocated the return of masks in crowded spaces and outdoor mixing.
The plea came just weeks after all Covid laws were scrapped or downgraded to guidance in England as part of the Government’s hands-off strategy.
The Downing Street spokeswoman said: ‘There is no change to our guidance and our living with Covid plan still stands.
‘Thanks to a combination of vaccination and treatment and our better understanding of the virus we are now able to manage it as we do with other respiratory infections, so that remains the case with our approach.’
Meanwhile, Sajid Javid slammed China’s ‘disturbing’ Zero Covid strategy and hailed the UK’s approach in what appeared to be a response to the NHS’ demands.
The graph shows the number of Covid hospital patients in England (blue line), of which there were 16,587 yesterday, and the number in mechanical ventilation beds, which was 317 yesterday
Some 16,587 infected people were in beds in England yesterday morning, the highest figure since January 17 and six per cent higher than one week earlier. However, NHS data shows just 42 per cent of those in hospital were admitted because they were primarily unwell with the virus (blue line)
The easing of rules in England has coincided with infection rates spiralling to the highest levels seen throughout the pandemic, with one in 13 people estimated to be infected at the start of the month.
Health bosses say the situation — fuelled by rising Covid rates and staff sickness — is impacting its ability to tackle the record backlog of patients needing care.
Millions of patients have already been told to stay away from busy A&E units unless they are genuinely dying, while ambulance services have urged some to make their own way to hospital.
The number of virus-infected patients in hospital last week breached 20,000 — the highest since February 2021. Although, figures also show thousands aren’t primarily ill with the virus.
Sajid Javid slammed China’s ‘disturbing’ Zero Covid strategy and hailed the UK’s approach in what appears to be a response to the NHS’ demands. He tweeted a video of residents in Shanghai screaming from high-rise flats in protest of the draconian lockdown there
England’s outbreak has PEAKED, massive testing survey suggests
England’s Covid resurgence has finally peaked — even though more people are currently infected than ever, the country’s most respected surveillance report suggests.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysts estimate 4.1million people in England had Covid in the week ending April 2.
Although the highest toll recorded since the pandemic began, it’s only 0.5 per cent higher than last week. Experts today hailed the figures as the ‘first sign infections have plateaued’.
In the worst-hit parts of the country — Plymouth, Torbay and South Hams — up to one in 10 people were carrying the virus, according to the testing survey.
ONS bosses admitted that ‘while infections remain high’, cases ‘may no longer be increasing in some parts of the UK’.
Experts say England’s latest surge was driven by the more transmissible version of Omicron, scientifically named BA.2. Ministers also admit that ditching the final Covid restrictions last month also fueled the uptick.
The ONS figures, based on swabs of 100,000 people, suggest that the downturn seen in the official numbers over the past week is genuine and not entirely down to the end of mass testing. Scientists and Tory MPs want the daily updates scrapped because they are now almost meaningless.
Asked about the NHS Confederation’s view that NHS leaders felt abandoned by the Government, No10 said: ‘We are incredibly grateful to NHS staff who worked flat out throughout the pandemic and continue to do so in the face of Covid backlogs.’
The NHS ‘is clearly under pressure’ but the health and care levy will provide additional funding alongside £10 billion ‘to recover services and relieve Covid pressures’, it added.
‘But we are alive to the pressures that they are facing,’ the spokeswoman said.
It came as the Health Secretary tweeted a video of Chinese residents screaming from high-rise flats after being confined to their homes for days in locked-down Shanghai.
Mr Javid branded China’s virus elimination policy as a ‘dangerous fallacy’ and praised the UK’s ‘learning to live with Covid’ approach.
The tweet, shared this morning, came at the same time as the NHS Confederation’s demands for Covid curbs to be reintroduced.
‘Disturbing reports from countries still enforcing ‘Zero Covid’ show this dangerous fallacy for what it is,’ Mr Javid wrote.
‘Proud that the UK has led the world in learning to live with Covid. Freedom, with responsibility, should always be the default.’
China’s biggest city today entered its third week of a brutal lockdown. But it has failed to stop or even slow the spread of the Omicron variant in the city.
This morning a record 25,173 new cases were reported by local officials, up from the previous record of 23,937 yesterday.
Infected Shanghai residents are taken to remote quarantine sites and children under seven have been separated from their parents.
Two volunteers per apartment building are allowed to shop outside each day for a maximum of two hours.
Starving locals have also been spotted storming supply points, breaking barriers in the street and scuffling with enforcers.
China is still doggedly trying to eliminate Covid but the ultra-infectious Omicron and BA.2 variants have broken through China’s super-strict Zero Covid restrictions due to subpar vaccines Chinese vaccines and a lack of natural immunity.
Part of the problem is that China’s homegrown vaccines have been shown to offer barely 50 per cent protection against falling ill with Covid – compared to up to 90 per cent from Pfizer or Moderna – and are thought to virtually useless against Omicron.
The NHS Confederation accused the Government of ‘abandoning any interest in Covid whatsoever’ as hospitals are set to deal with a ‘brutal Easter as bad as any winter’
Beijing has refused to turn to a more effective Western-made vaccines, which are more expensive and difficult to store and distribute than China’s own, which use traditional technology.
Mr Javid’s defence of the UK approach came hours after Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, slammed it.
‘The brutal reality for staff and patients is that this Easter in the NHS is as bad as any winter,’ Mr Taylor said in a press release.
Confederation boss Matthew Taylor said: ‘NHS leaders report a clear disconnect between the Government’s Living with Covid plan and the realities at the NHS front line’
‘But instead of the understanding and support NHS staff received during 2020 and 2021, we have a Government that seems to want to wash its hands of responsibility for what is occurring in plain sight in local services up and down the country.
‘No10 has seemingly abandoned any interest in Covid whatsoever.
‘NHS leaders and their teams feel abandoned by the Government and they deserve better.’
‘Mitigating actions’ — including not meeting people indoors and wearing masks in crowded spaces — were needed to prevent the spread of the virus, the group said.
It also said the Conservatives needed to have a ‘public information campaign’ to ask people to stay away from A&E unless they have an emergency.
Overcrowded A&E rooms are suffering from staff shortages, with data showing up to three per cent of staff in the NHS have coronavirus.
And delays to ambulance handovers, which are supposed to take 15 minutes, are at their highest level this year, with a quarter of patients forced to wait for at least 30 minutes to be admitted.
The organisation said that in the last week alone 20 emergency departments in England have been forced to turn patients away as they issued ‘diverts’ due to being too full.
Trusts across Yorkshire last week claimed the pressures left them with no choice but to prioritise patients in ‘genuine, life-threatening situations’.
And Dr Derek Sandeman, chief medical officer at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Integrated Care System, last week pleaded with families to take their Covid-infected relatives home to free up beds as trusts battle a ‘perfect storm’ of pressures.
The NHS Confederation also questioned whether plans to tackle the record backlog of care are realistic.
One in nine people in England were waiting for routine treatment — such as joint replacement and cataract surgery — or diagnostic tests by the end of January.
Meanwhile, ministers should reconsider asking the NHS to foot the bill for Covid tests for staff – estimated to cost the NHS ‘several hundred million pounds’ which is being taken away from patient care.