Isle of Wight needs Chinooks to fly out patients weeks after being in tier one

Covid patients could soon be evacuated from the Isle of Wight by military helicopters following a 71-fold increase in cases.

The island had one of the lowest rates in the country in the first week of December, with 16 cases per 100,000 people.

A month later, the rate has surged to 1,162 per 100,000, with health bosses now planning ‘unthinkable options’ to cope with the increase.

Cases began increasing significantly before the festive period, but the island remained in tier one – the lowest level of restrictions – for Christmas Day.

This meant the island’s 142,000 residents could mix with other people indoors or outdoors under the Rule of Six – and were told to ‘bubble away’ on the day itself.

On December 25, the seven-day rate of new cases per 100,000 people on the island stood at 216.5.

This jumped to 707.5 by December 31, but it has since carried on rising, and stood at 1,162.4 on January 8 – putting the island in England’s top ten for biggest week-on-week rises.

Stephen Parker, the medical director of the Isle of Wight NHS trust, has said they are now considering the use a military Chinook helicopter to evacuate patients to the mainland.

In April 2020, a test flight was carried out using a 27 Squadron Royal Air Force Chinook to land close to St Mary’s Hospital in Newport to transfer patients to the mainland.

Mr Parker told The Guardian this method might need to be deployed by the end of January.

He said: ‘These are unprecedented times for the NHS and they are unprecedented times for the island.

‘I think it really is important to realise that we are one of the smallest hospitals in the country; we are challenged about moving patients and we could be overwhelmed.’

Isle of Wight Council leader Dave Stewart said at the point of moving into Tier 4: ‘Sadly, our case numbers have risen rapidly just prior to the Christmas period; far faster than at any other point throughout the pandemic.

‘All of the good work we have been doing to protect our Island community from this virus seems to have been undone in a very short space of time, which goes to show how dangerous this virus is.’

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