Speaking on Thursday, a spokesman for the National Health Service (NHS) told reporters that rising Covid-19 infections had necessitated the readying of emergency care centres.

“In anticipation of pressures rising from the spread of the new variant infection, NHS London was asked to ensure the London Nightingale was reactivated and ready to admit patients as needed, and that process is underway,” he said.

Covid in-patient numbers are rising sharply, so the remaining Nightingales are being readied to admit patients once again, should they be needed,” the health service added.

The spokesman said that Nightingale hospitals in Manchester, Bristol and Harrogate were already in use, but for non-Covid patients.

On Tuesday, the prime minister’s spokesman said the UK’s expensive temporary hospitals – built at a cost of £220 million – were still largely idle, but “ready” should they be needed.

The announcements come as the UK faces a huge increase in Covid-19 infections as the ‘highly contagious’ virus variant sweeps across the country.

On Wednesday, British health authorities registered 50,023 new infections and 981 deaths. To date, the country has recorded more than 2.4 million cases and over 72,600 deaths in the pandemic.