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British hospitals scramble for space as virus cases soar

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 file photo, a welcome sign at the entrance of St Thomas' Hospital, one of several hospitals around Britain that are handling the initial phase of a COVID-19 immunization program, in London. British hospitals are cancelling non-urgent procedures and scrambling to find space for COVID-19 patients as coronavirus cases continue to surge despite tough new restrictions imposed to curb a fast-spreading new variant of the virus. Dr. Nick Scriven of the Society for Acute Medicine said Monday, Dec. 28, 2020 that with he numbers approaching the peaks from April, systems will again be stretched to the limit. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, File)

LONDON – British hospitals are canceling non-urgent procedures and scrambling to find space for COVID-19 patients as coronavirus cases continue to surge despite tough new restrictions imposed to curb a fast-spreading new variant of the virus.

Another 41,385 confirmed cases were recorded across the U.K. on Monday. It was the first time the daily number of cases reported in the country surpassed 40,000, although many more tests are being performed than earlier in the pandemic.

Dr. Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the rising number of hospitalized patients was “extremely worrying.”

“With the numbers approaching the peaks from April, systems will again be stretched to the limit,” he said.

British authorities are blaming a new variant of the coronavirus for soaring infection rates in London and southeast England. They say the new version is more easily transmitted than the original, but stress there is no evidence it makes people sicker.

In response, authorities have put a swath of England that’s home to 24 million people under restrictions that require nonessential shops to close, bar indoor socializing and allow restaurants and pubs only to operate for takeout.

Even so, hospital admissions for COVID-19 in southeast England are approaching or exceeding the levels seen at the first peak of the outbreak. Government figures show 21,286 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus across the U.K. on Dec. 22, the last day for which data is available. That is only slightly below the high of 21,683 COVID-19 patients who were recorded in U.K. hospitals on April 12.

Dr. Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, described her experience working in a hospital on Christmas Day as “wall-to-wall COVID.”