An eight-year-old child in England has died after testing positive for coronavirus, as the number of new cases in the UK exceeded 50,000 for the fourth day running.
The government announced a further 53,285 COVID-19 cases on New Year’s Day, with 613 more deaths recorded.
The figures are down on those announced on New Year’s Eve, when the UK recorded 55,892 new cases – the highest figure on record – and 964 deaths were confirmed.
It brings the total number of UK cases to 2,542,065 and the total number of deaths with 28 days of a positive test to 74,125.
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Among the UK figures announced on Friday, NHS England said a further 420 patients had died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus – including a patient aged eight.
Twelve of the patients who died had no known underlying health conditions and they were aged 55 to 90. The deaths of the 420 patients were recorded between 24 November and 31 December.
After a recent surge in cases, Nightingale hospitals across England are being readied for use and the Royal College of Nursing has said staff leave is being cancelled to deal with the demand.
But Mike Adams, the RCN’s England director, warned that the expectation of a mass rollout of staff at the Nightingale hospitals is “misplaced”.
He told Sky News: “If we are having to cancel leave to staff these areas, the obvious question is where will the staff come from to open the Nightingales?
“I have real concerns that the expectation that this mass rollout in capacity can happen is misplaced because there aren’t the staff to do it.”
Meanwhile, the UK’s chief medical officers have warned that vaccine shortages are likely to cause problems for “several months”.
More than a million people have now received their first coronavirus vaccination in the UK.
However a joint statement from England’s Professor Chris Whitty and the chief medical officers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said the public would “understand” and “thank” them for a plan to give first jabs as a priority, delaying the follow-up vaccination for others.
The deployment of the newly approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will begin on Monday, almost a month after the rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, but second doses of either will now take place within 12 weeks rather than 21 days as initially planned.
The chief medical officers said: “Currently the main barrier to this is vaccine availability, a global issue, and this will remain the case for several months and, importantly, through the critical winter period.
“Vaccine shortage is a reality that cannot be wished away.”
The makers of the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine said they are working flat out to boost production of their COVID-19 vaccine, but they warned there will be gaps in supply until other vaccines are rolled out.
It comes as an expert at Imperial College London has said the high rate of infection in the new coronavirus variant meant that transmission of the disease was likely to have tripled even during England’s November lockdown conditions.
Professor Axel Gandy said the new variant increases the coronavirus reproduction number – or R number – “by about 0.4 to 0.7”.
“That doesn’t sound like much but the difference is quite extreme,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He added that since the November lockdown had been eased, it did not look like there was evidence to suggest children of school-going age were more likely to carry the new variant.
The reopening of secondary schools in England has been delayed until later in January, and in some of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19, primary school pupils will also not return as planned next week.