We all know just how tough 2020 has been. The uncertainty of when we can hug our loved ones again, when we can visit friends and extended family and when we would be allowed out to enjoy ourselves at the local pub, cinema or restaurant. That's why the relaxing of restrictions over a five-day period at Christmas was so important to so many. We all wanted some joy and celebration at the end of this terrible year.
But the change to the rules over the weekend was inevitable to save lives and prevent harm. Until we're all vaccinated, there is a remorseless, inexorable logic here – the greater the level of social contact between us all, the higher the number of lives lost or ruined.
We've also moved up a level in terms of NHS pressures. We saw more temporary closures of A&E departments last week as they struggled to keep up with rising demand. More delayed handovers from ambulances. More overcrowded A&E departments and long waits to be seen. The NHS has 11,000 fewer beds than last year to prevent infection and keep everyone safe. Of the remaining beds, 16,000 are now occupied by COVID-19 patients compared to just 500 in September. Some hospitals are treating more than three times the number of COVID patients than they did in the first peak.
Trust leaders have called for the restrictions to be as tough as needed to cut infection rates. They're worried that they are already much busier than normal at this type of year – “winter has come four weeks early” is a common refrain. They are particularly worried about the large new surge in COVID cases in London, south east and parts of the east of England due to the new variant.
The message for the public is clear. Please follow the rules strictly, including over the festive period, while continuing to come forward for NHS care if you need it. We understand how frustrating these additional measures feel. But until the vaccination programme has brought the virus under control, the actions each of us takes will either save or cost lives.