Essex has declared a major incident due to excess Covid cases - what we know so far

A major incident has been declared in Essex, as coronavirus cases continue to surge in the county.

The whole of Essex is under Tier 4 but there are fears that the restrictions are not enough to contain the virus. 

It comes as 53,135 new coronavirus cases were recorded in the UK on Tuesday 29 December, with the health secretary saying the NHS was facing “unprecedented pressures”.

Matt Hancock will set out the details of England’s latest coronavirus tier review today (Wednesday 30 December).

Why has a major incident been declared?

The major incident announcement was made following fears that the number of coronavirus cases in Essex could overwhelm the county’s NHS services.

It will enable local leaders to seek further government support to “address the severe pressures” the health services are under.

There is “significant growing demand” on hospitals in the area, the Essex Resilience Forum (ERF) said.

Mid and South Essex NHS Trust placed all three of its hospitals on critical alert on Tuesday 29 December.

The ERF - made up of members of the NHS, emergency services and local authorities - said that the number of patients in Essex receiving treatment for the virus had increased to more than during the first wave.

Hospitals in Southend and Basildon have also appealed to clinical staff who are on annual leave to return to work to help.

Areas of concern include critical care and bed capacity, staff sickness, and being able to discharge patients into safe environments. 

Chief Constable of Essex Police and co-chair of the Essex Local Resilience Forum, BJ Harrington, said: "Declaring a major incident enables us to seek further support from the government to address the severe pressures which the health system is under because of Covid-19.

"The people of Essex have been magnificent and are only dialling 999 or attending A&E in an emergency - we need this to continue because this will help protect the very limited capacity available at our hospitals."

Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, told the BBC that the declaration of a major incident was "incredibly alarming".

He said: "I welcome the decision of the local resilience board. Hopefully it will mean hospitals get the resources they need to help with this very difficult situation."

Anthony McKeever, executive lead for Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership, said: "We are taking every action possible within the NHS and across the wider health and social care partnerships in Essex to limit the impact on the NHS and the wider health system.

"This involves using critical care capacity elsewhere in Essex and the eastern region and identifying additional locations and capacity to assist with the discharging of patients to reduce pressure on hospitals."

He added: "Our strong working relationships mean we are able to respond effectively to support our local communities."

What are the latest figures in Essex?

The number of patients being treated for coronavirus in hospitals in England was at a record high of 20,426 on Monday 28 December - exceeding the peak of 19,000 in April.

In Essex hospitals, the latest government figures show there were 762 beds occupied by confirmed coronavirus patients as of 22 December.

Brentwood has the highest rate of the virus in England, with 1,258.1 cases per 100,000 people and recording 969 new cases in the week to 25 December.

Epping Forest has the second highest rate in the country, at 1,256 per 100,000 people, with 1,654 new cases.

Thurrock has the third highest rate, at 1,181.6 per 100,000 people, with 2,060 new cases.

The average Covid-19 rate per 100,000 people in the whole of England is 402.6.