COLCHESTER Hospital’s boss has welcomed news of an impending Covid-19 vaccine as a “light at the end of a dark tunnel.”

Nick Hulme, chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex Trust, said as of Tuesday there were around 45 people in Colchester Hospital with Covid-19.

“During the first surge of cases we weren’t testing everybody,” he said.

“The figures only tell part of the story, as they could show people who do not have symptoms and who are in hospital for another reason – but who have tested positive.”

On the BioNTech and Pfizer vaccine, which is 95 per cent effective and ready for deployment in the UK next week, Mr Hulme said: “For the first time in I think ten months, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

“Over the next three to six months this will be something to hang on to and look towards.

“We have done so well managing the virus, so many more people could have died had we not acted in the way we did.

“Covid in Colchester Hospital is in a much better position than in Ipswich currently.

“There was the pressure in the community two weeks ago in Essex which then manifests itself later in hospitals – that is what we are now seeing in Suffolk.”

Mr Hulme is calling on the people of Colchester to remain wary of the virus and to follow the rules over the festive period.

“We still have to be pragmatic in preparing for a post-Christmas surge,” he said.

“No matter what decision people take, there will be an increased risk of a surge as we saw in in America after Thanksgiving.

“With a two-week lag period we are looking at planning ahead for the middle to the end of January.

“We would hope not to have to enact those contingency plans but it is important to have them.

“I think in the high-intensity areas of the hospital, in intensive care, the wards and in A and E, staff are of course absolutely exhausted.

“But we have invested in staff welfare, in mental health welfare, funding a service for people dealing with stress and anxiety.”

And Mr Hulme said people would have to be prepared to make sacrifices in the coming months.

He added: “At the moment it is all consuming, particularly where you deal with Covid in a professional capacity and you come home and it’s all you see, hear or read about - it can be hard to switch off.

“I won’t be seeing my three boys, who live in London, over Christmas and I will miss them.

“But it is a sacrifice I am prepared to make and we all must be prepared to make some sacrifices over Christmas if we are to protect our hospitals.”

Colchester’s coronavirus infection rate has risen slightly since the weekend, with 137 cases confirmed in a week.

The infection rate in Colchester has risen to 70.4 cases per 100,000 people as of 4pm yesterday.

The figures, for the seven days to November 28, are based on tests carried out in laboratories and in the wider community.

In Tendring the infection rate is 59.4, with 87 cases confirmed over the same period.