Health chiefs in Barnet are preparing for a third wave of coronavirus and warned a “significant” number of people could be affected by long Covid symptoms.

Medics told Barnet Council’s health and wellbeing board that Covid-19 cases were on the rise – particularly in younger people, who are less likely to have had the vaccine.

It comes as the UK government plans to lift remaining restrictions on Monday (July 19), despite concerns over growing cases of the more transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19.

Speaking during the meeting on Thursday July 15, Barnet Hospital chief executive Deborah Sanders said the hospital was starting to see a “slowly rising number of Covid cases”.

Ms Sanders said there were 20 patients with the virus and four in intensive care, although some had come into hospital for another reason but were displaying Covid symptoms. She added that there had been a “very small number of patients” displaying symptoms despite having been double vaccinated. 

The Barnet Hospital boss told the committee:  “We are planning for a third wave at the same time as planning for what we think will happen in children, which will be an increase in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections. We think that will happen at the same time as an increase in Covid inpatients.

“I think we have some apprehension about what is to come, but I would like to give you assurance that all parts of the system are really working together to help support each other.”

Dr Julie George, the council’s deputy director of public health, told councillors Barnet was seeing a Covid infection rate of 237 cases per 100,000 people. Most cases were in the 10 to 39 age group, but there were some in the 60-plus age group, she added.

Test positivity had gone up to 5.5 per cent, which was “roughly the numbers we were seeing in early December and in mid-February, so it’s kind of the beginning and the end of that second peak” Dr George explained.

“We are seeing relatively few hospitalisations compared to the second peak,” she continued. “The link between hospital admissions and Covid has been weakened. I wouldn’t say it has been broken, as some of our politicians do say, but definitely we are in a better place given the success of the vaccine programme.”

Dr George said people tended to think that if young people got Covid it was “not so bad” and they would “get over it very quickly”, but she warned medics were estimating “a significant number of people with long Covid, including numbers that are severely debilitated by it”.

“We do, luckily, have good services that have been put in place to address those,” she added.

Warning the situation could “escalate quite quickly”, Dr George urged people to continue to wear face coverings, particularly indoors; to maintain social distancing; and to “think about the number of contacts you are having and the size of gatherings you are going into”.

Dr Charlotte Benjamin, clinical vice chair of North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group, said medics hoped that, because of the vaccine rollout, hospital admissions would be a third of the number seen during the last wave of the virus, at most.

In Barnet, as of July 6, 231,000 patients had received their first dose of the vaccine, with 132,000 having received their second dose. But Dr Benjamin warned there were still 28,000 people in the most vulnerable population cohorts who had not been fully vaccinated, despite having had “lots of offers”.