‘Worst case scenario’: 120,000 dead
The UK could see another 120,000 deaths from coronavirus in a second winter wave of the disease that could be compounded by an influenza epidemic, scientists have warned
A new report commissioned by the Government's chief scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, predicts that a "reasonable worst-case scenario" could see between 24,500 and 251,000 COVID-19 related deaths in hospitals alone in a secondary peak of the disease between January and February 2021 in the heart of the northern winter.
While the report does not take into account any vaccines, treatments or lockdowns, scientists argue the risk could be reduced if action is taken immediately.
The UK is Europe's worst-hit country for coronavirus deaths with nearly 45,000 people killed so far. The death rate has been slowing in July and the government has moved to open up pubs, gyms and hairdressers, while encouraging people to return to work if they can.
However the Academy of Medical Sciences report, chaired by Professor Stephen Holgate, will make for grim reading for those who hoped the worst was over.
It warns that an already under pressure National Health Service (NHS) could struggle to cope under the strain of more local lockdowns, with the situation compounded by a winter flu epidemic.
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The "reasonable worst-case scenario" predicts that the 'R' number of the disease could rise to 1.7 from September - meaning every 10 people would infect 17 others with the virus.
This is expected to lead to 119,000 deaths, however the range could be between 24,500 and 251,000 due to the large degree of uncertainty, scientists admit.
The results also do not take into account recent results from a dexamethasone trial, "which could substantially reduce mortality" or the prospect of a vaccine that the Oxford University Jenner Institute is hoping could be available by October in limited quantities.
If the predictions came to fruition it would mean the second wave would be double the number of hospital deaths in the March-July wave of the virus.
It could also have significant health implications in terms of routine clinical care that could lead to a backlog of 10 million people on NHS waiting lists, the authors warned.
To mitigate such an event, scientists have recommended social distancing, wearing face coverings, regular hand washing, heating and ventilating of homes, self-isolation and participation in the test, track and trace system.
On Tuesday the UK government backflipped on face masks, making it mandatory to wear them in shops in England from next week.
"The Prime Minister has been clear that people should be wearing face coverings in shops and we will make this mandatory from July 24," Boris Johnson's office said.
"There is growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus."
The UK economy has contracted by 19.1 per cent in the three months to the end of May due to the effect of harsh lockdowns on businesses - the sharpest slump in 300 years.
Originally published as 'Worst case scenario': 120,000 dead