HOSPITAL car parks and gyms will be transformed into Covid surge wards as the NHS goes on a “war footing” against Omicron.
Up to 4,000 extra beds will be created in eight “Nightingale hubs” across England, under the plans.
Health chiefs are already equipping eight temporary wards in preparation for a spike in pandemic cases, with dozens more on standby.
It comes as the number of patients being treated for Covid on NHS wards hit 10,462 in England yesterday.
Hospital occupancy is up 48 per cent from a week earlier and the highest number since March 1.
However, it is still significantly down from the January peak, when more than 34,000 beds were filled.
There were also 1,751 Covid hospital admissions on December 27 – up 65 per cent in a week and the highest number since February 5.
But in a further sign vaccines are protecting against the worst effects of Covid, the number of patients taken to intensive care and placed on ventilators remains almost unchanged throughout December.
Each temporary Nightingale hub will be able to house around 100 Brits recovering from the virus.
Current surge wards are being created at sites including St George’s in London, St James’ in Leeds and Solihull Hospital.
NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Given the high level of Covid-19 infections and increasing hospital admissions, the NHS is now on a war footing.
“We do not yet know exactly how many of those who catch the virus will need hospital treatment, but given the number of infections we cannot wait to find out before we act and so work is beginning from today to ensure these facilities are in place.
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“We hoped never to have to use the original Nightingales and I hope we never to have to use these new hubs.” In London, 3,310 people were in hospital with Covid yesterday – up 63 per cent on the previous Wednesday and the highest number since February 16.
But it is still much lower than the January peak of 7,917.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “It is absolutely right that we prepare for all scenarios and increase capacity.” Hospital bosses welcomed the news.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Trusts are rightly preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
“Trusts are identifying extra capacity on existing hospital sites that could be turned into super surge capacity should it be required.
“Trust leaders hope this back up insurance policy will never be needed, as with the original Nightingales. But it must be the right ‘no regrets later’ move to make these preparations now.”