The numbers of people in hospital remain low compared with the first peak of the virus, however. 

Bolton, the coronavirus hotspot of England, has only two Covid-19 patients on hospital wards, according to the most recent NHS data. Across all 18 “intervention” areas listed on Public Health England’s watchlist, 141 people out of a population of more than five million are in hospital with the disease – one hospital case for every 38,000 people. 

MPs in London were told last week of plans to increase the number of “step down” beds in which coronavirus patients in the capital who no longer need hospital treatment can recover in isolation.

One MP briefed on the plans during a conference call with health bosses told The Telegraph: “The rate of infection is going up, and I was told hospitals have reserved beds for people coming out of hospital who need somewhere to recover.

“At the start of lockdown they were having to send people back to care homes or back to other facilities, with dire consequences, so they’ve booked places in respite care or empty care homes. People will go out of hospital, but they won’t return to their normal place of living. They just need care before they go back home so that they empty the hospital wards.”

A former minister added: “The effort is being made to step up capacity so that if there is a second spike the NHS doesn’t fall so far behind with other types of care.

“Different parts of London are looking at different ways to handle that, but everyone has learnt that terrible lesson that you cannot discharge people into care homes if there is any danger whatsoever that they might be Covid positive, so there is a big effort to find extra beds.

“Brent rented an entire care home and they discharged their people into another care home. I think other places will be doing that as part of their efforts to get ready for a second spike.”

Another source who was on the call said councils had been given the job of finding extra beds and that disused care homes were likely to be used.

The isolation wards would be in addition to the NHS Nightingale Hospitals, which provide extra capacity for treating people with coronavirus rather than space for them to recover.

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