LONDON—Britain’s National Health Service is bracing for the worst weeks of the pandemic as a new, more-contagious form of the coronavirus rips through the country and places hospitals under more extreme stress than in the spring.
A combination of a more infectious version of the virus, less compliance with social-distancing restrictions and changing hospital procedures have created a storm for the state-run health service as it tries to weather a surge of Covid-19 infections.
“I think this situation is really, really serious. It is deteriorating rapidly,” said Dr. Daniele Bryden, a doctor and vice dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine. “We know this is going to be a very difficult three weeks.”
The new variant—which scientists estimate is between 50% and 70% more transmissible than older versions—has combined with gatherings over Christmas to push daily new reported cases to record levels, government scientists say. New cases appear to be flattening out at high levels, but it will take time before any benefits feed through to hospitals.
There are now more people in the hospital than in any phase of the pandemic last April, with 32,300 Covid-19 patients hospitalized at present compared with around 21,700 in the spring.