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Makeshift hospitals mobilised as UK set for new 3-tier COVID-19 lockdown

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London:  A set of makeshift hospitals built in record time earlier this year to help deal with an influx of COVID-19 cases are being asked to mobilise in parts of northern England on Monday as coronavirus infections register a spike in varying degrees across the UK.

The announcement regarding the Nightingale Hospitals being put on standby comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make a statement in the House of Commons to lay out details of the country’s new three-tier system of coronavirus restrictions, with the third tier reserved for the most severe lockdown rules in line with the severity of the number of cases.

Johnson chaired a meeting of the emergency COBRA [Cabinet Office Briefing Room A] committee with top officials to finalise the new system and is also set to address the nation in a televised briefing later on Monday evening.

“The National Health Service (NHS) is putting the Nightingale Hospitals in Manchester, Sunderland and Harrogate on standby to open for patients,” said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director.

“They are being asked to get ready to accept patients – whether that’s COVID-19 patients or people recovering from the virus. They could be asked to provide elective and diagnostic services for patients with conditions other than the virus,” he said.

Manchester’s medical lead Dr Jane Eddleston said north-west England has about 40 per cent of all of the country’s Covid cases, which is “proving challenging”. Greater Manchester has seen a three-fold increase in the number of patients in intensive care in the last five weeks and an eight-fold increase in admissions.

“I stress to you the importance of us taking this disease extremely seriously,” she said.

The Liverpool City Region is also expected to face the tightest restrictions under the new three-tier system, which will classify regions as being on “medium”, “high” or “very high” alert. Steve Rotheram, the city region’s mayor, says negotiations have taken place through the night but no deal has been agreed yet.

Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese said the region was waiting to find out if they would be able to stay in tier two, and is arguing that the government has not presented any evidence that hospitality is responsible for spreading COVID-19 in the area.

It reflects a growing divide between different parts of the country over the blanket shutting down of businesses, which local mayors say would be devastating in the long-term. Gyms, casinos and pubs are among the businesses expected to be impacted by the top-level restrictions, with new curbs to be reviewed after a month.

Tougher measures were already introduced in Scotland last Friday, including the closure of pubs and restaurants across the central belt, while the Welsh government has said the next few days could see tougher lockdown measures coming in.

On Sunday, 12,872 people in the UK were reported to have tested positive for coronavirus – around 2,294 fewer than on Saturday – and there were a further 65 deaths – down from 81 on Saturday.

“This is a nationwide phenomenon now that rates are changing upwards across the UK,” said Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England and one of the government’s key advisers.

He also warned that the virus was now spreading from younger age groups into those aged over 60.

“And this is again of significant concern… because of course the elderly suffer a much worse course with COVID-19, they are admitted to hospital for longer periods, and they are more difficult to save,” he said.

His comments during a briefing on Monday come a day after he warned that the UK was heading into a coronavirus headwind.

Another senior adviser, Peter Horby, chairman of the government advisory group Nervtag, said a second national lockdown was a possibility when asked by the BBC.

“The numbers are not looking good at all. We’ve got increasing cases, increasing hospitalisations, both in younger adults but also in the elderly — those most at risk — and we are starting to see the number of deaths increase as well,” he said.

Asked during the interview if the UK faced a second national lockdown, he said: “I think that’s a possibility and we have to do what we can to avoid that at all costs.”

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