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Lockdown could ‘return within weeks’ if social distancing fails on Super Saturday, hospital boss warns

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals Pictures: ARCHANT

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals Pictures: ARCHANT

Rachel Edge

Extra NHS staff are being drafted in this weekend with Suffolk hospital chiefs anticipating a spike in A&E demand when drinkers head back to pubs.

Pubs and restaurants are set to re-open under new eased lockdown rules this weekend  Picture: ADAM SMYTH/GREENE KINGPubs and restaurants are set to re-open under new eased lockdown rules this weekend Picture: ADAM SMYTH/GREENE KING

Ipswich and Colchester hospital boss Nick Hulme said the easing of lockdown rules, which will see pubs and restaurants reopen on Saturday, is “fragile” and warned that if social distancing rules break down we could risk the virus returning “in a matter of weeks”.

Visits to A&E have plummeted over recent months, but Mr Hulme said his trust is planning for a spike in patients this weekend – and warned social distancing measures rolled out in emergency departments to segregate Covid-19 patients could limit capacity.

Additional staff are being brought in on Saturday evening, with more arriving overnight.

WATCH: 100 days of lockdown – a look back at life during the pandemic

Mr Hulme said not sticking to social distancing rules this weekend could cause a “massive risk” to future freedoms, adding: “We are still in a fragile situation as a country, we are still in a situation where, although the numbers are very low in this part of the world, this is an incredibly tricky virus that does transmit between people very easily.

“Clearly, people will be wanting to go out and enjoy themselves.

“But as ever, it’s about drinking safely, looking after your mates, making sure you are responsible.

“Although the numbers in A&E have been down for the past four months, they can very easily get back to numbers we’ve seen before.”

MORE: More than 15,000 people avoid A&E during coronavirus lockdown

Just under 13,000 people attended A&E across Ipswich and Colchester hospitals in May, down from 22,500 in the same month last year. West Suffolk Hospital’s numbers fell from 7,000 last May to just under 5,000 this year.

A table is wiped clean at a restaurant ahead of the lifting of further lockdown restrictions on Saturday Picture: Aaron Chown/PA WireA table is wiped clean at a restaurant ahead of the lifting of further lockdown restrictions on Saturday Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Mr Hulme added: “It’s really important to remember the sacrifices we’ve made, remember how difficult that’s been.

“Have that in the back of your mind, because unless we get this right in terms of releasing lockdown, we’re going to be back there in a matter of weeks, as we’ve seen in parts of the country where lockdown has been reintroduced.

“If we want to continue enjoying the freedoms around going out, enjoying ourselves, going to restaurants and going to pubs, we have to realise it is fragile, if people don’t stick to the rules, and drink to excess, and therefore forget about social distancing rules.”

MORE: Reports of Suffolk coronavirus ‘spike’ sparked by just three cases – here is what is actually happening

Leicester became the first city to be put back into lockdown after a spike in cases was detected there.

Mr Hulme said all of Suffolk’s NHS, including the ambulance service and GP surgeries, will be working together to tackle a predicted spike in activity this weekend.

“(The new lockdown freedoms) are fragile if they put more pressure on the NHS, which is still in a sense of recovery.

“We hope our NHS staff will have a very quiet night, and that I’ll be frustrated that we brought them in.

“We’re planning for the worst, which we have been doing throughout the pandemic.

“It’s a plan we hope we don’t have to use.”

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