COVID rules have been returned as the virus makes a comeback.
The Omicron sub variants are fuelling a summer wave that experts say is “really worrying”.
Masks are being strongly encouraged in hospitals across the UK
Newer Covid variants Omicron BA.4 and BA.5, which are more transmissible, are able to evade the immune protection built up by vaccines or previous infections.
While face coverings have become a personal choice across much of the UK, some hospitals are making them mandatory once more – although it is not enforceable by law.
It comes in response to admissions creeping up to levels not seen since the spring Omicron wave.
Hospitals in Hampshire, Wales, Cambridge and Cornwall have introduced mandatory masks for patients, staff and visitors, The Times reported.
Dr Lara Alloway, chief medical officer at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said social distancing was also “strongly encouraged” due to a “significant” rise in Covid patients and growing staff sickness rates.
In Wales, three of the seven health boards Wales have brought masks back, the BBC reported.
One hospital, Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, has also banned visitors other than those seeing patients in end-of-life care.
The changes have been made due to “increasing prevalence of Covid-19” at the site.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said enforcing masks in hospitals was a “very sensible policy”.
He told BBC Radios 4’s Today programme: “Because there is so much [Covid] out in our community, anything we can do in our hospitals to reduce the potential for outbreaks on weards makes sense.”
Speaking about the current Covid picture, he said: “There are an extraordinary number of cases at the moment.
“But when we look at a global perspective, the number of deaths per day is the lowest it’s been in the last 18 months.
“Similarly in the UK, the deaths remain at a very low rate.
“And that’s because of the remarkable power of the vaccine programmes around the world. and of course the immunity from past infection.
“So we are in a very different place from where we were before. But that doesnt mean Covid is not a bit of problem, because there are still individuals who are being admitted to hospital…
“That huge spread we have at the moment is going to increase the number of hospital admissions as a result.”
Rising hospital cases
The number of people in England’s hospitals who are positive for Covid has climbed above 10,000 for the first time since April.
A total of 10,658 patients were in hospital as of 8am on July 4, up 36 per cent week on week, NHS England figures show.
Wales recorded 575 patients with Covid-19 on June 30, up 53 per cent from the previous week.
Scotland has seen patients jump 34 per cent week on week, reaching 1,298 on June 26.
The trend in Northern Ireland is uncertain, with numbers rising through most of June before levelling off in recent days at around 400.
There is “currently no evidence” that BA.4 and BA.5 cause more serious illness than older variants of the virus, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Therefore, it’s unlikely hospital patients will reach levels seen in earlier Covid waves pre-vaccinations.
However, with growing numbers of infections comes more hospital cases by default.
The NHS has said it is braced for the pressures of Covid along with a potentially early flu season, as seen in Australia.
Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, described the latest rise in infections as “really worrying”.
He described it as a “wake-up call about our vulnerability to new variants”.
It comes after a UK health chief urged Brits to take “precautions” as they go about their normal life, such as carrying a face mask on them.
Dame Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health and Security Agency, said she takes a face covering with her everywhere to wear on the London Underground, or if someone she is with is anxious about Covid.
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