The number of people being treated for coronavirus in hospitals has dipped, but health chiefs say they are still under severe pressure.

Hertfordshire hospitals have created 30 extra critical care beds to cope with the second wave of the pandemic.

The county’s director of public health, Jim McManus, said that hospital admissions had continued to "ramp up.”

But the latest figures for Herts hospital beds occupied by coronavirus patients, from January 19, show a slight drop.

There were 590 COVID-19 patients across four hospital trusts, compared to 604 a week earlier.

But, said Mr McManus, despite going “up and down”, as a general trend, “the numbers in hospital have just kept climbing" in January.

Survival rates had improved, he said, but that meant more people in hospital for longer.

“More people are needing oxygen,” he continued. “More people are needing longer periods of rehab. It’s quite clear the virus is knocking them for six and they need some time in.”

NHS figures, published on Thursday, showed 30 new critical care beds have had to be created since November – 19 of them in the past two weeks – to cope with demand.

In early November, as England prepared to enter its second national lockdown, the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, which runs Lister Hospital, had 18 adult critical care beds.

By January 3, it had upped the number to 22 – and 21 of them were full.

By January 17, it had increased the number to 34 – of which, 30 were occupied.

It was a similar story at the West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Watford General.

In early November, the trust had 20 adult critical care beds. By January 3, it had increased to 25 – of which, 24 were filled.

By January 17, it had upped the number again to 34, of which 26 were occupied.

The number of hospital beds across the county occupied by coronavirus patients has more than doubled in a month.

On December 22, there were 276 COVID-19 inpatients across four trusts – East and North Herts, West Herts, the Herts Community trust and the Herts Partnership trust.

Four weeks later, on January 19, the figure was 590 – a 114 per cent rise.

Mr McManus said this morning that infection rates were now in decline across the county, but it could take several weeks for hospital cases to follow suit.

He added that although infection rates were falling, they remained very high and above the England average.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said. “We are now testing thousands of people a week. Positivity peaked at 22pc and is going back down. Ideally, I would like to get it under 10pc.”