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Public health ‘at risk’ as leading Covid surveillance programme ends

Ministers will be left in the dark on Covid spikes just as case numbers reach unprecedented levels if a “world-beating” surveillance programme is scrapped, scientists have warned.

The React-1 study, which played a crucial role in detecting and tracking the spread of the Alpha variant in December 2020 ahead of the second lockdown, has been stopped as part of the government's plan to cut its Covid costs.

But in its last report, the study found 6.37% of the population was infected between 8 and 31 March – the highest figure since it began in May 2020. More worryingly, the scientists behind the research said the prevalence rate has also reached new highs for people aged 55 and over, at 8.31 per cent.

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) said dismantling the project while cases were at record levels damaged preparedness and put public health at risk.

The spread of Covid within hospitals is also fuelling staff shortages, bed closures and delayed discharges in multiple regions of the country. This is coinciding with delays in ambulance handovers and response times, NHS sources say.

Information seen by The Independent revealed hundreds of beds are currently out of use at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals trust due to Covid outbreaks. A senior clinician said the “hospital is coming apart at the seams” and that, across the northeast, even “high” performing emergency departments were “crashing” and “stacking ambulances outside of hospital”.

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Source: The Independent, 6 April 2022


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