There could be a large jump in the number of Covid hospital admissions in England if restrictions are not tightened, government scientists say.
According to the Sage committee’s modelling, hospitalizations could reach 2,000 to 7,000 per day next month, up from around 1,000 today.
However, they added that a “relatively light set of measures” could help to reduce infections.
PM Boris Johnson has stated that he hopes that by increasing vaccinations, new restrictions can be avoided.
On Tuesday, as he unveiled his winter plan for combating Covid, Prime Minister David Cameron stated that some measures would be kept in reserve as part of the government’s Plan B if the NHS was put under unsustainable strain.
These include vaccine passports, mandatory face masks, and work-from-home advice.
- Can England avoid ‘lockdown lite’ this winter?
- Plan A or Plan B – what could happen this winter?
- Booster jab rollout to begin in UK next week
Papers released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on Tuesday, dated 8 September, said there was “potential for another large wave of hospitalisations”.
Virus modellers advising the committee, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), said the virus could spread faster after schools reopened and more people returned to work.
They point out that homeworking has played a “very important role in preventing sustained epidemic growth in recent months.”
“A significant decrease in homeworking in the coming months is very likely to result in a rapid increase in hospital admissions.”
However, the modellers add that if implemented early enough, even a “relatively light set of measures” could be sufficient to limit rising cases.
“In addition to encouraging homeworking, more light-touch measures could include clear messaging advising people to be cautious, more widespread testing, a return to requiring all contacts of cases to isolate, and increased mask-wearing.”
They claim that if the epidemic is allowed to spread until hospitalizations become too high, “much more stringent (and thus more disruptive) measures would be required to quickly bring prevalence down.”
However, the organisation acknowledged that its previous warning – that lifting all restrictions over the summer could result in a large-scale outbreak – had not been confirmed by events.
Back in July, the modellers who report to the Sage committee were overly pessimistic, assuming that society’s opening up would result in an increase in infections and hospital admissions.
According to the most recent set of papers, school closures, warm weather, and a large number of people being forced to self-isolate played a larger than expected role in reducing infections.
However, they go on to say that the peak time for cases, which was previously expected in August, has now simply been pushed back to October through December.
The return of schools and colleges may cause case rates to rise. According to them, another large wave of hospitalizations is on the way.
They favour early, light-touch intervention by ministers, such as encouraging more people to work from home again.
In effect, this is a call for the government to implement Plan B for England as soon as possible.
Sceptics will argue that modellers have made mistakes in the past and that the latest papers should be taken with a grain of salt. Few, however, would deny that a harsh winter is on the way.
Mr Johnson said at a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday that he hoped the vaccination programme would allow the UK to remain “one of the most free societies” in Europe, with only limited restrictions to keep the disease at bay.
“Because so many people have some level of immunity, small changes in how we ask people to behave can have a larger impact.”
He urged the five million people who have yet to receive a Covid-19 vaccine to do so in order to avoid tougher winter restrictions.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, told the briefing that the country was at a “tipping point” and that ministers needed to act quickly if the number of cases increased rapidly, warning that “you can’t wait until it’s too late because you’ve got to do more.”
“When you make a move, you have to go earlier than you think you want to, harder than you think you want to, and make sure you have the right geographical coverage,” he said.
Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, warned that respiratory viruses like flu and others would have a “huge advantage” as winter approached.
He also emphasised that the country was entering the autumn with far more cases, hospital admissions, and deaths than the previous year.
On Tuesday, the United Kingdom reported an additional 26,628 cases and 185 deaths within 28 days of a positive test. According to the most recent data, there were 8,413 Covid patients in the hospital.
On September 15, last year, there were 3,105 daily cases and 27 deaths reported, with 1,066 Covid patients hospitalised.
Vaccines, on the other hand, are now providing extensive protection against severe illness. In the United Kingdom, 81.2 percent of people aged 16 and up are fully vaccinated.
Sajid Javid, the UK’s health secretary, also confirmed on Tuesday that all over-50s, as well as those in other vulnerable groups, would be offered a booster shot.
To maximise the impact, people will be offered either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine at least six months after their second dose.