In Depth

Reaction: second Covid wave ‘could kill 120,000’ in UK this winter

Experts warn that preparations to avoid worst-case scenario in NHS hospitals ‘must start now’

Britain must begin “intense preparations” to avoid a second coronavirus spike that could claim up to 120,000 lives in a “reasonable worst-case scenario”, ministers have been warned.

A new report from leading doctors and scientists says that unless urgent action is taken, infections could grow “out of control” and overwhelm the NHS this winter - when as The Guardian notes, “services are already stretched because of flu and other seasonal pressures”.

The experts also predict that over the coming months, Britain’s R rate could rise from the current levels of between 0.7 and 0.9 to reach 1.7 in September, which “would likely see the UK go back into lockdown”, says Sky News.

The 37 scientists and academics behind the report were commissioned by Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, to model a “reasonable worst-case scenario” for Covid-19 this winter. They believe the peak in hospital admissions and deaths could come in January and February 2021.

And the levels of fatalities projected “does not include deaths in the community or care homes”, the broadcaster adds.

“A peak of coronavirus infection in the winter could be more serious than the one we’ve just been through,” report chair Stephen Holgate, a professor of immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton, told a press briefing. “We’re anticipating the worst, which is the best we can do.”

The modelling was based on “the known impact of Covid-19 on healthcare resources, combined with that of flu and other seasonal infections, during a time when health services are often overstretched”, New Scientist reports.

The researchers also “looked to the experiences of other countries, particularly what happened to the R number in US states that have recently eased lockdown restrictions”, the magazine continues.

Based on their conclusions, the experts are calling “for a series of measures to prepare the NHS, including immediately reorganising social care services and increasing testing capacity”, says ITV News.  

Flu vaccinations must also be available for the vulnerable and health and social care workers, according to report chair Holgate.

“With relatively low numbers of Covid-19 cases at the moment, this is a critical window of opportunity to help us prepare for the worst that winter can throw at us,” he added. 

Professor Azra Ghani, an infectious disease epidemiologist from Imperial College London who worked on the report, told Sky News that the findings are “not a prediction” but a “worst-case scenario”.

“As we move into winter, the weather gets worse, people stay indoors more, windows aren’t open so the likelihood of transmission does of course increase,” she said. “We also have all sorts of other pressures on the NHS that increase during the winter and therefore extra admissions into hospitals.”

A government spokesperson also emphasised that the report “represents a worst-case scenario based on no government action”.

“We remain vigilant and the government will ensure the necessary resources are in place to avoid a second peak that would overwhelm our NHS,” the spokesperson said.

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