The National Health Service is on the brink of being overwhelmed in many parts of the UK amid increasing pressure as winter approaches, the head of a healthcare system body has warned.
Infections have been increasing markedly since the start of October, however, the government is resisting introducing the extra restrictions set out in its winter plan.
On Tuesday, the country reported 223 Covid-related deaths, marking the highest daily figure since March, while the seven-day average for Covid cases stands at 44,145 a day. Now, the UK has one of the highest weekly rates of new reported cases in the world.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lifted almost all coronavirus restrictions in England, and is keeping in reserve only as a "Plan B" measures such as masks, vaccine passports and advice to work from home.
However, doctors are concerned that a spike in numbers of covid patients going into hospital, combined with pressures on the NHS from seasonal viruses, could result in a "perfect storm" which would leave hospitals unable to deal with long waiting lists and function normally.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents the healthcare system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland called for the implementation of Plan B measures to prevent the NHS “stumbling into a crisis.”
"I talk to health leaders every day, and I have literally not spoken to any leader who doesn't say that their service is under intense pressure now. This is the middle of October. Things are only going to get worse," he told BBC radio on Wednesday.
"The health service is right at the edge... if you push much further we will not be able to provide the level of service that people need to have."
“The government ought to not just announce that we’re moving to plan B, but it should be plan B plus. We should do what’s in plan B in terms of masks … working from home, but also we should try to achieve the kind of national mobilization that we achieved in the first and second waves, where the public went out of their way to support and help the health service.”
The government, meanwhile, has said it is relying on vaccinations, including booster shots for vulnerable people, in order to avoid lockdowns this winter.
Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng also said it would be wrong to impose another lockdown, playing down the prospect that more limited measures would be brought in soon.
"Ministers, scientists, experts are looking at data on an hourly basis," he told the BBC.
"And we don't feel that it's the time for Plan B right now. What we're trying to do is get people who haven't been vaccinated, to get those vaccinations up, increase the uptake of the booster jab."
The number of people waiting for hospital treatment in England alone has soared, reaching a record high of 5.7 million as the NHS struggles to clear the growing backlog of care exacerbated by the pandemic.