LONDON, (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson said yesterday Britain was in “a race against time” to roll out COVID-19 vaccines as deaths hit record highs and hospitals ran out of oxygen, and his top medical adviser said the pandemic’s worst weeks were imminent.
A new, more transmissible variant of the disease is now surging through the population, with one in 20 people in parts of London now infected, threatening to overwhelm the National Health Service (NHS) as hospitals fill up with patients.
The death toll in the United Kingdom has been soaring and now stands in excess of 81,000 – the world’s fifth-highest official toll – while more than three million people have tested positive.
In a bid to get on top of the pandemic and to try to restore some degree of normality by the spring, Britain is rushing out its largest ever vaccination programme, with shots to be offered to about 15 million people by the middle of next month.
“It’s a race against time because we can all see the threat that our NHS faces, the pressure it’s under, the demand in intensive care units, the pressure on ventilated beds, even the shortage of oxygen in some places,” Johnson said on a visit to a vaccination centre in Bristol, in southwest England.
“This is a very perilous moment. The worst thing now for us is to allow success in rolling out a vaccine programme to breed any kind of complacency about the state of the pandemic.”
The government’s chief medical adviser Chris Whitty earlier said the situation was set to deteriorate.
“The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS,” he told BBC TV.
“Anybody who is not shocked by the number of people in hospital who are seriously ill at the moment and who are dying over the course of this pandemic, I think, has not understood this at all. This is an appalling situation,” he told BBC TV.