Covid surge leaves UK hospitals like 'war zones': chief scientist

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London (AFP)

Some British hospitals resemble a "war zone" due to the influx of coronavirus patients in the country's latest wave of the disease, the government's chief scientific adviser said on Wednesday.

Britain is gripped by a new strain of the virus, heaping fresh pressure on overstretched health services, and overwrought medical staff.

A record 1,610 deaths were recorded on Tuesday, although overall case numbers have started to fall.

"When you go into a hospital, this is very, very bad at the moment with enormous pressure and in some cases it looks like a war zone in terms of the things that people are having to deal with," chief scientist Patrick Vallance told Sky News.

The government is banking on an unprecedented vaccination drive to try to return life to normality.

More than four million people have received a jab since the programme began in early December.

But Vallance warned that "vaccines are not going to do the heavy lifting for us at the moment", and efforts to cut the close-contact spread of the virus are needed for some time to come.

"This is about, I'm afraid, the restrictive measures which we're all living under and carrying on with those," he added.

"The numbers are nowhere near where they need to be at the moment, they need to come down quite a lot further -- we need to make sure we stick with it."

Britain is currently locked down for the third time since the start of the outbreak early last year. Schools and non-essential shops are closed, social mixing and travel are restricted.

A review of the measures is due in mid-February, with hopes that stay-at-home orders can begin to be lifted.

But Vallance said the easing of restrictions should not be done quickly, echoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week, who said it would not be an "Open Sesame" moment.

"This is going to be a slow release, monitoring carefully, understanding the effects," Vallance added.

Britain's total Covid-19 death tally now stands at 91,470, with a further 33,355 new cases also reported over Tuesday, taking the total number of infections to nearly 3.5 million.