Third Covid wave could kill up to 80k this summer even if lockdown eased slowly, Sage docs warn
THE UK will face a deadly third Covid wave even if lockdown is lifted slowly, according to Sage documents used by the Prime Minister to design the “roadmap” out of restrictions.
Scientists have been modelling the path of the outbreak under various unlocking scenarios to warn Boris Johnson against moving too fast.
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Under a scenario similar to the blueprint being announced by the PM today, there will be another wave in July, very slowly fizzling out by the end of 2021.
Hospitalisations could reach levels seen in the spring 2020 peak in a worst case scenario and there could be an additional 30,000 to 70,000 deaths.
The papers make for grim reading ahead of what Britain hoped would be the end of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.
Speaking of the documents today, top scientists said it was clear the slower restrictions were eased, the less damage.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, said the “slower the better” when unlocking crippling lockdowns.
He warned against "flying blind" in loosening restrictions without five weeks gaps between each step to assess if they were safe.
Professor Dame Angela McLean, chief scientific adviser for the Ministry of Defence, said Sage had been "strong in our plea" that a return to normality must be slow because "none of us want to go backward".
Making a statement in the Commons on the Government’s road map out of lockdown, the Prime Minister said that regardless of when lockdown was lifted, there would be more cases, hospitalisations, and deaths, and that "there is no credible route to a zero Covid Britain".
The threat of yet another deadly wave comes despite the highly successful vaccine rollout, in which 17.5 million Brits have already received a first dose.
A resurgence will occur because there will still be too many people who are vulnerable that will not be protected from Covid – either because they refused their jab, or because their vaccine has not worked.
The vaccine is not 100 per cent effective – some who receive it will still catch the virus and possibly get very sick.
Sir Patrick explained that even with a high uptake of 80 per cent in adults, almost half the population could be left vulnerable including the unvaccinated, children, and the very few whose jab did not work.
What will happen with the planned lockdown easing?
The first date for the diary will be March 8 when schools will reopen and Brits can once again meet one friend or family member in an outside space for a picnic or a coffee.
Assuming all goes well with that easing, the next significant milestone will be March 29 when outdoors gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed, reuniting friends for the first time in months.
The same date will also see the return on outdoor sports such as tennis, golf and even football.
Hairdressers, pubs and restaurants will not be able to open until April.
Beyond that, Boris is expected to say he hopes for the rules of six can be scrapped altogether by June and the UK return to a true sense of normality, albeit with social distancing in place, by July.
Groups of scientists that feed into Sage – which advises the Government on navigating the pandemic – modelled what would happen under this lockdown plan, but with a few tweaks.
It modelled hospitality, hairdressers and 15-person events from May, rather than April, and a “full unlock” once all adults are vaccinated, expected to be at the end of July.
It also included allowing one friend or relative into the home from March 29, which would be quite significant for driving transmission.
Under this scenario, graphs show hospital inpatients could hit between 15 to 20,000 at the start of July.
This would start to decline but then stall in August, before coming down very slowly.
The modelling from Imperial College London also shows deaths could reach between 33,200 and 81,2000.
The researchers behind the findings said they were based on a lot of assumptions, such as how well the vaccines work and that people will continue to stick by the rules.
A similar model from Warwick University said hospitalisations could peak at a lower 10,000.
This was the “best case scenario”, given that it represented a slow return to normality.
One which unlocked fast – seeing a return to normality from the end of April – could lead to a shocking 60,000 inpatients – possibly up to 90,000 – by July.
And deaths could soar to 150,000, Imperial modelling shows.
Speaking to journalists at a briefing, Sir Patrick said the modelling informed the roadmap out of lockdown.
He said: "We are not starting as of today from a good position, in other words, we are not now in a 'let's release everything'.
"We are in a not-very-good position that is getting better."
He said the models show that opening the UK sooner risks a "big resurgence" of the virus, and so the "slower the better".
And he urged for assessing the impact of each step out of lockdown, leaving a gap of at least four or five weeks between them.
"You'll be flying blind if you don't wait", he warned.
Speaking of the vaccines, Sir Patrick said: "Even with high vaccine levels, and indeed quite high coverage, it's important to remember that a large number of people in the population remain unprotected.
"So if you take a simple way of thinking about it – let's say 80 per cent of people are adults, so 20 per cent are not vaccinated even if you got to all the adults.
"And you got roughly 80 per cent efficacy, giving 80 per cent protection – you’ve got roughly 50 per cent across the whole population [unprotected].
"It tells you that even at quite high levels of coverage and protection, you've still got a large number of people unprotected."
Professor Dame Angela McLean, chief scientific adviser for the Ministry of Defence, agreed that things must move slowly.
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