Hugs are back but hospitals are prepared for a third wave

Hugs are back as part of a further easing of restrictions – but there remains the chance of a third Covid wave.

Hospitals are prepared in case of a third coronavirus wave
Hospitals are prepared in case of a third coronavirus wave

As pubs and restaurants prepare to reopen indoors, Boris Johnson has revealed greater freedoms.

From Monday, most social contact rules outdoors will be lifted, although gatherings of more than 30 will remain illegal.

Indoors, the rule of six or two households will apply – and physical contact between friends and family will be allowed.

New figures reveal virus rates across the West Midlands are now as low as at any time since the pandemic began. The rate ranges from 23 per 100,000 in Walsall and Sandwell to just 11 per 100,000 in Cannock and Stafford.

But experts are still urging caution, and hospitals are drawing up contingency plans for a possible third wave later this summer or in the autumn.

Leaders at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust say they expect there to be "periodic peaks" of coronavirus.

And there are concerns that the make up and density of the population in the West Midlands makes it susceptible to variants that may resist vaccines.

Trust interim chief executive Richard Beeken said the loosening of lockdown means there was still a chance that rates could "take hold".

He said: "In life after Covid, we are preparing for – as paradoxical as this may sound – more Covid.

"What I mean by that is we can see across the globe, there are going to be periodic peaks and troughs, as different variants, or the effect of loosening the handbrake, with regard to lockdown arrangements, takes hold in terms of incidents rates in the population.

"And we know in the Black Country and west Birmingham system, in particular, the unique employment profile in this part of the world, and the unique socio-demographics .means that we are likely to be as hard hit, if not more so, than most areas.

"We are contingency planning for a late summer, early autumn, spike of some kind in Covid, associated with the loosening of lockdown rules."

"And then rolling that forward into effective winter planning, so that we can provide a safe, acute, hospital and community service during the course of the coming winter, whether or not there is a peak of Covid to manage during that period."

Harjinder Kang, who is a non-executive director at the NHS trust, said during a public board meeting: "In terms of a third wave, which is always possible, we have a window of three or four, or maybe five months, of peace and quiet dare I say it, before maybe something else comes through.

"Have we factored that into all of the recovery plans? I'm assuming the assumption base is something will happen later in the year?"

Liam Kennedy, chief operating officer, responded: "Internally, we have factored in what we think will happen in the third or fourth wave."

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