Adults have been warned to stay at home when feeling unwell or wear face coverings in public spaces in order to stem the spread of illness, as pupils return to schools and universities after the Christmas break.
Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said adults are also urged not to “visit vulnerable people unless urgent” when feeling unwell, amid reports of flu and Covid-19 are currently circulating at “high levels”, as well as high numbers of scarlet fever.
She said in a statement: “It’s important to minimise the spread of infection in schools and other education and childcare settings as much as possible. If your child is unwell and has a fever, they should stay home from school or nursery until they feel better and the fever has resolved.
“Adults should also try to stay home when unwell and if you do have to go out, wear a face covering. When unwell don’t visit healthcare settings or visit vulnerable people unless urgent.”
Her advice comes in the wake of a warning by a senior NHS boss, who said that the health service is now under “unbearable strain”, after at least 10 NHS trusts declared critical incidents, which means they are having to scale back normal services to cope with demand.
Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation, told Sky News that most NHS leaders say "this is the toughest winter they’ve ever dealt with,” adding, "We cannot go on like this." Officials have cited rising flu cases and effect of the Covid-19 pandemic among the reasons for the pressure on the health service.
Rising cases of scarlet fever
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and creator of the COVID Zoe app, highlighted an Omicron variant after a scientist reported that the number of cases in the US had more than doubled in a week.
In the UK, a high number of scarlet fever cases, which is caused by group A Streptococcus (Strep A), continues to be reported. At least 30 children in the UK and 122 across all age groups in England have died from invasive Strep A.
Last week, BBC reported that one in five ambulance patients in England waited more than an hour to be handed over to the A&E teams. NHS trusts have a target of 95% of ambulance handovers to be completed within 30 minutes, and 100% within 60 minutes.
NHS England also reported that a total of 37,837 patients waited more than 12 hours in A&E for a decision to be admitted to a hospital department, an increase of almost 355% compared with the previous November, when the figure was 10,646.