A third coronavirus wave could hit the NHS with 20 times more patients than the second peak, experts have warned.
It is thought a third peak would bring a far higher number of inpatients in hospitals than those seen during the September and October wave that triggered a second national lockdown in England.
In November, two advisers of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) warned the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions for Christmas could lead to another wave of the pandemic.
NHS hospitals would be overrun due to increased transmission and there would be more unnecessary deaths according to Professor Andrew Hayward, an epidemiologist at University College London.
Professor Graham Medley, an infectious disease modelling expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the relaxation could lead to further lockdown measures being implemented in the new year.
NHS health bosses are said to be worried hospitals will be overrun with coronavirus patients in January and February, traditionally the busiest times of the year anyway.
They reportedly fear that if hospitals have more than 5,000 coronavirus patients by the end of the year they may fail to cope with a third wave.
At the peak of the second wave in November, 13,767 hospital beds were occupied by people with Covid-19, with the number falling to 12,241 by December 6, the Health Service Journal reports.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the "vast majority" of people at the top of the priority list will not get the jab until January, February or March 2021.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said the distribution of the vaccine would be a "marathon not a sprint".
Grandmother Margaret Keenan, 90, became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine today.
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