Buckinghamshire declares major incident over Covid cases

Buckinghamshire has followed Essex by declaring a major incident, amid fears that rising numbers of Covid-19 patients could overwhelm health services.

Case rates could rise close to 800 people per 100,000 “by next week”, said the county council’s leader, Martin Tett, adding: “Of real concern is that this increase is also being seen in our older age groups.”

Declaring a major incident enables local leaders to seek further government support and coordinate emergency services response. Local authorities in Essex also sent a plea for military help to increase hospital capacity, with fears over critical care and bed capacity, staff sickness and the ability to discharge patients quickly into safe environments.

Tett said figures up to 24 December put the number of coronavirus cases in Buckinghamshire at 514 per 100,000. “Our rate in the over-60 years population is now putting our health and social care services under very severe pressure – the rates in this age group have gone up by over 60% and we think this will continue at least for the next two weeks,” he said.

Health chiefs said non-urgent surgery and outpatient appointments were being delayed, but serious operations, including for cancer, would go ahead.

Tett said: “Whilst today’s announcement about the approval of the Oxford vaccine is excellent news, we still need to deal with the deteriorating situation we face immediately across the county.

“We believe that this rapid increase is due to the spread of the new, more transmissible Covid variant across much of the south-east, particularly prior to the introduction of the tier 4 regulations.”

It comes after Essex Resilience Forum (ERF) said the number of patients receiving treatment for coronavirus had exceeded the peak of the first wave, and figures were expected to increase.

The Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin requested armed forces assistance for Essex in the Commons on Wednesday, including for vaccine deployment and testing in schools.

Covid tiers – map

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said pressures in Essex were “very significant” and he would “look favourably on the county’s request for military assistance”, working with the defence secretary, Ben Wallace.

Anthony McKeever, the executive lead for Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership, said: “We are taking every action possible within the NHS and across the wider health and social care partnerships in Essex to limit the impact on the NHS and the wider health system.

“This involves using critical care capacity elsewhere in Essex and the eastern region and identifying additional locations and capacity to assist with the discharging of patients to reduce pressure on hospitals.”

The two counties are under the highest tier 4 restrictions.

On Wednesday, it was announced an additional 20 million people will move into the tightest restrictions, making a total of 44 million in tier 4, or 78% of the population of England.


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