© Reuters. Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London
© Reuters. Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London

By Reuters Staff

LONDON (Reuters) – British health officials have reactivated emergency hospitals that were built at the start of the pandemic to handle a surge in COVID-19 cases that is putting existing wards under extreme pressure, particularly in London.

The United Kingdom has recorded more than 50,000 new daily cases of the virus for the past four days, driven in part by a new variant that is much more infectious, and a rise in the number of people who are dying each day.

Medics have warned they are struggling to cope, especially when so many colleagues are off sick or having to self isolate, and paramedics and nurses have had to treat patients in ambulances because of a shortage of available beds.

An email to staff from the Royal London Hospital said it was now in “disaster medicine mode”.

A spokeswoman for the National Health Service (NHS) said the Nightingale hospital in London was being prepared to reopen if needed.

“In anticipation of pressures rising from the spread of the new variant infection, the NHS London Region were asked to ensure the Nightingale was reactivated and ready to admit patients should it be needed,” she said. “That process is under way.”

The hospital, based in the Excel Exhibition Centre in London’s Docklands and named after Victorian nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, will be staffed by London medics with additional support from the military and partners in the voluntary sector if needed, the spokeswoman said.

The Nightingale hospitals are temporary sites built with the help of the military in a matter of days in March and April when hospitals first struggled to cope with the influx of COVID-19 patients.

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