Tourists blamed for new virus spike which closed Somerset hospital

“A message sent to NHS workers in the South West, who may usually use the hospital [Weston General Hospital in Weston-super-Mare], revealed it had at least 64 coronavirus patients and that 40% of staff who had been tested had also tested positive for the virus, as Somerset Live reported at the weekend.”

Tourists and VE Day parties could be to blame for a new spike in coronavirus cases which forced a Somerset hospital to close, according to a NHS worker.

Weston General Hospital in Weston-super-Mare stopped accepting new patients at 8am on Monday (May 25) because of a ‘high number of patients with coronavirus’. The hospital appears to still be closed to newcomers this morning (Tuesday, May 26).

A message sent to NHS workers in the South West, who may usually use the hospital, revealed it had at least 64 coronavirus patients and that 40% of staff who had been tested had also tested positive for the virus, as Somerset Live reported at the weekend.

The NHS worker who shared that message says VE Day parties and a surge in tourists visiting Weston’s seaside could be to blame for the new wave of virus.

The NHS worker told Somerset Live : “VE Day parties made it rise in London, I reckon.

“People starting off socially distancing then getting drunk and then ignoring.

“Areas which are not tourist destinations have had very few cases, so maybe there is something in that being a factor, too.

“The visitors have probably spread it around the country now.”

New figures show an alarming rise in the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Weston area.

A total of 55 new cases were confirmed in North Somerset in the past week, the latest figures showed.

John Penrose, the MP for Weston, referred to the rise as a ‘spike’.

The local NHS worker’s warning about the surge in cases followed calls from doctors to stay home – even as the government looked to relax lockdown further.

Boris Johnson announced plans to reopen non-essential shops in June on Monday (May 25).

That process will begin next week, with outdoor markets and car showrooms getting the green light to trade again.

But doctor Dominic Pimenta said the infection ‘R’ rate of the virus, which has to stay below ‘1’ for the number of infections to keep falling, was on the up again.

He suggested hospitals like Weston struggling was a bad sign, pleading with people to continue to stay at home.

He said : “The R is likely rising again. Hospitals are struggling with coronavirus in Weston-super-Mare.

“YOU did the right thing. The lockdown DOES save lives.

“PLEASE. PLEASE. PLEASE. STAY HOME PROTECT THE NHS SAVE LIVES.”

‘Day trippers’ and VE Day parties to blame?

People across the country, as well as in Weston itself, seemed to blame a combination of VE Day parties, tourists and the apparent bad example set by Downing Street adviser, Dominic Cummings, for the worrying virus figures in the town.

Sam Trego, a Weston resident, blamed ‘day trippers’ for the new wave of virus and the hospital closure in an angry post on Twitter.

The Weston cricket club coach wrote: “We must thank all the ‘day trippers’ for popping in and out of our town.”

Later on Monday (May 25) he quoted a tweet from the health secretary, Matt Hancock, which had said the country must ‘move on’ from the Dominic Cummings controversy.

Sam wrote: “Why don’t you pop down to Weston-super-Mare where we have no hospital open for a town with over 76,000 people living in it because we have had a surge of coronavirus cases!”

Rhiannon, another Weston local, also feared people gathering on the beaches had led to the hospital closure.

“Two weeks ago for VE day weekend people piled onto the beach. It felt like lockdown had stopped,” she wrote on Twitter.

“Now our hospital has had to stop admissions as there are so many cases of covid.”

She also shared an image taken by her brother showing the busy beach and seafront promenade on Monday (May 25).

There were a number of large gatherings in the sunny weather across our region over the Bank Holiday weekend – including a busy car meet in Cheddar.

Christine Murray also drew the link to VE Day, pointing out Weston’s hospital had closed a few weeks after the Bank Holiday celebration – enough time for new virus cases to be noticed in hospitals.

Despite the concern of many locals, experts have urged caution when linking virus spikes to specific causes.

Following concerns that events like the Bath Half Marathon and Cheltenham Festival had allowed coronavirus to spread, analysis suggested it was too soon and very difficult to tell.

But a maths lecturer from the University of Bath said it was ‘possible’ big gatherings played a role and said it might be possible to work out a link from the data ‘when the dust settles’ on the crisis.

Dominic Cummings row fuels local anger at new virus spike

Another Twitter user was also unhappy that ‘more people travelling’ had contributed to the Weston closure – and feared the actions of Dominic Cummings would make things worse.

He wrote : “Given Mr Cummings actions it’s only going to get worse when people now start doing what they want when they want.”

Kit McCarthy was another to fear the actions of the Prime Minister’s adviser could make things worse, referring on Twitter to the views of Durham police’s former chief constable, who said Mr Cummings’ behaviour would make lockdown harder to enforce for police.

Dominic Cummings – a man credited with masterminding the Leave vote in the 2016 EU referendum and Boris Johnson’s majority in the 2019 general election – is a key adviser to the Prime Minister.

He has admitted driving 260 miles from his London home to his parents’ estate in Durham, during the coronavirus lockdown – when the government had changed the law saying people must stay at home, unless there is an extreme risk to life.

Reports by the Mirror and Guardian newspapers suggested Mr Cummings did not stay isolated after travelling to Durham, after he was seen in public.

On Monday, May 25, he answered questions from the media in the Downing Street Rose Garden.

He admitted the breach of lockdown but said he acted ‘reasonably and legally’ to care for his young son – for fear both he and his wife would be unable to care for him due to illness.

But once in Durham Mr Cummings did not receive any childcare help from his family there.

He also excused a day trip away from the family home in Durham by saying he was testing his eyesight before driving back to London.

He also admitted returning to work when discovering his wife was sick – a breach of the rules in itself.

Boris Johnson and his government have stood by Mr Cummings – despite demanding the dismissal of two advisers earlier in the crisis for their own breaches of lockdown rules.

But Jodi Owens was fed up with the media focus on Mr Cummings, when the issue of Weston’s hospital closing and a possible second wave of virus was getting much less coverage.

She said on Twitter, tagging in Sky and ITV during Boris Johnson’s press conference on Monday evening: “Reports today hospital in Weston has had to close is doors yet your journalists are just repeating the questions they asked Dominic Cummings 2 hours ago.”

What Weston hospital said

Dr William Oldfield, medical director at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, explained the reasons for the hospital’s closure on Monday (May 25).

He did not suggest why the number of cases had gone up locally.

He said: “As with any hospital, the number of patients with COVID-19 will frequently change as people are admitted and discharged.

“We currently have a high number of patients with COVID-19 in Weston General Hospital.

“While the vast majority will have come into the hospital with COVID-19, as an extra precaution we have taken the proactive step to temporarily stop accepting new patients to maintain patient and staff safety.

“This is a clinically-led decision and we are being supported by our system partners to ensure that new patients receive the care and treatment they need in the appropriate setting, and we are continuing to provide high quality care to existing patients who are being treated in the hospital.”

“We have a robust coronavirus testing programme in place for patients and staff to identify cases quickly, with appropriate measures taken by clinical teams as required.

“We will keep the situation under constant review.”