Experts fear a second wave of coronavirus could bring twice as many deaths as the first, a report commissioned by the UK's chief scientific adviser reveals.
A group of 37 scientists, from the Academy of Medical Sciences, were asked by Patrick Vallance to model a reasonable worst-case scenario for the forthcoming winter, and advise the British government on how to prevent it.
The experts warned that 119,000 people may die in hospital if a second wave hits while the UK's National Health Service (NHS) is dealing with a bad winter flu season. Under such a doomsday scenario, the reproduction "R" rate would rise to 1.7 by September, with infections peaking in January and February. The overall number of deaths could be even higher, as the report does not factor in deaths in care homes.
The authors said it was critical to reorganise the NHS and social care so that coronavirus patients were kept away from others.
Widespread testing, ramped up contact tracing and nationwide surveillance were also vital to stay on top of the disease, the experts said, and they called for a wider uptake of the flu vaccine to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed. "The window for action is now," said report author Anne Johnson, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London. "Infection rates are low and we've got time to think, breathe, and get on top of things."
The report warned that a new wave, combined with the NHS treatment backlog and the possibility of a flu epidemic, could pose a serious risk to health in the UK. The worst-case scenario assumes that the British government will not respond to rising cases with another widespread lockdown.
Stephen Holgate, professor of immunopharmacology and honorary consultant physician at the University of Southampton, said: "We need to have a rapid system of monitoring in the UK so we can spot outbreaks when they occur." Report author Professor Azra Ghani, chair in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said: "Everybody needs to realise that Covid-19 hasn't gone away."
Separate data seen by The Guardian suggests that there are large regional variations in the death rates of patients in intensive care. The death rate for ICU patients in England and Wales is 39pc but at one unnamed trust in south-east England, eight in 10 patients had died.
Meanwhile, face coverings will become mandatory in shops and supermarkets with fines of up to £100 for anyone who fails to obey, the British government will announce today. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, will confirm that guidance is being updated to make the wearing of face coverings in stores in England compulsory from July 24.
The announcement came after days of confusion in which Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, and Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, made apparently contradictory statements about whether face coverings should be mandatory in shops.
The rules will mean that current guidance requiring masks to be worn on public transport in England will be extended to cover shops and supermarkets. Government sources said that ministers would monitor the situation and could introduce similar guidance for other settings in future.
The changes bring retailers in England into line with those in Scotland, where face coverings have been mandatory in shops since last week. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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