Virus expert says next relaxation should go ahead as hospital figures slow

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, James Paget Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Pict

Coronavirus patient figures and admissions continue to stay low in Norfolk, with virus expert Paul Hunter saying May restrictions should go ahead. Picture: Brittany Woodman/Sonya Duncan - Credit: Brittany Woodman/Sonya Duncan

A Norfolk virus expert has said the UK is on track to reopen further on May 17 as coronavirus admission figures plateau - but says new variants continue to be a cause of anxiety. 

Paul Hunter, from UEA's Norwich Medical School, said figures are encouraging towards further easing measures but he "wouldn't bet the house on it". 

As of April 20, the number of coronavirus patients in Norfolk remains in single figures, with three people receiving treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King's Lynn and one at the James Paget University Hospital, in Gorleston. 

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has not had any Covid patients since April 12, down from 350 at the height of the second wave in January. 

Critical care capacity has also hit zero at all three trusts, with the last reported patient since April 12.

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Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Photo: UEA

Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Photo: UEA - Credit: Archant

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Prof Hunter said hospitalisation figures were the most important to watch and that declining numbers across the country shows the effect of the vaccine.

He said: "The Oxford and Pfizer vaccines are very good at keeping people out of hospital. Nothing is 100pc perfect but the evidence of preventing people from going into hospital is quite convincing. 

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"Case numbers for the last week seem to have plateaued a bit across the country and hospitalisations are still declining."

There are no ventilators in use at any of the hospitals, with the James Paget last needing one five weeks ago on March 12.

In the peak of the second wave, more than 20pc of beds were occupied by Covid-19 patients at the NNUH and James Paget and nearly 40pc at the QEH, with 199 cases. 

This has now fallen to practically zero across the whole of April. 

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Professor Hunter said the first indications of the impact of the April 12 easing will begin to emerge from early next week, reiterating he had more concerns around the easing measures outlined in the next two stages of the roadmap in May and June. 

He said: "I personally think the next relaxation in mid-May should go ahead and I think they will, but I won't bet the house on it.

"I'm quite optimistic about that and how we can manage even if cases go up and if we can keep hospitalisation down, the vaccines will do that."

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