COVID-19: UK coronavirus deaths rise by 397 with another 15,539 cases

Another 397 coronavirus deaths have been reported in the UK – compared to 504 on Friday.

A further 15,539 cases were reported on Saturday compared to 16,298 the day before.

The latest figures have been published after the number of UK deaths passed 60,000 on Thursday.

Public Health Wales reported another 24 deaths on Saturday, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 2,695.

There have been a further 1,645 cases of coronavirus in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 87,077.

The rise in deaths comes as the UK’s chief medical officers warned the vaccine will only have a “marginal impact” on hospital numbers over the winter, as each of the four nations prepares to start administering the first doses next week.

Festive gatherings are likely to put additional pressure on healthcare services, with a tough few months still ahead, experts said.

Preparations are continuing for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be rolled out from as early as Tuesday in what has been described as “one of the greatest challenges the NHS has ever faced”.

GP surgeries in England have also been told to be ready to start staffing COVID-19 vaccination centres by December 14.

In a letter to colleagues, the four chief medical officers said this winter would be “especially hard” for the health service due to coronavirus.

They said: “Although the very welcome news about vaccines means that we can look forward to 2021 with greater optimism, vaccine deployment will have only a marginal impact in reducing numbers coming into the health service with COVID over the next three months.

“The actions and self-discipline of the whole population during lockdowns and other restrictions have helped reduce the peak and in most parts of the four nations hospital numbers are likely to fall over the next few weeks, but not everywhere.

“The social mixing which occurs around Christmas may well put additional pressure on hospitals and general practice in the New Year and we need to be ready for that.”

The letter, signed by chief medical officer of England, Professor Chris Whitty; of Scotland, Dr Gregor Smith; of Wales, Dr Frank Atherton; and of Northern Ireland, Dr Michael McBride, said they did not expect the virus to “disappear” even once full vaccination had occurred.

The first jabs will be administered in each of the UK nations on Tuesday.

In Northern Ireland it will be administered at a mass vaccination centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, while in Wales frontline NHS and social care staff will receive the country’s first coronavirus vaccine.

The first vaccinations will also take place in Scotland next week, while jabs will be administered at hospital hubs in England.

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