The Government’s scientific advisory panel stated today that it is highly unlikely that the NHS will be overwhelmed by Covid this winter, even with no restrictions. This advice supports minsters’ decision to not revert back to their winter Plan B’.
Modelling by SAGE predicted that the combination of vaccine-acquired immunity and natural protection would be enough to keep hospital rates below levels seen in the second wave.
Even in the most gloomy central scenarios, the group estimated that daily Covid hospital admissions would not rise above 1,500 this winter. More optimistic models had them peaking at below 1,000.
The forecasts assumed that a modest 1.3million elderly and vulnerable people are given a Covid booster vaccine per week over the coming months, which is roughly in line with the current rate, and that 90 per cent of eligible people take up the offer.
In documents submitted to ministers last week but only published today, SAGE said there was some evidence that the peak of the third wave, in terms of hospitalisations, ‘has already happened’.
But the scientists warned against complacency, adding that there was still a threat if people suddenly drop all precautions, vaccines suddenly wane in younger groups or a new variant becomes dominant.
The findings will give the Government confidence that it has made the right decision by not enacting its winter ‘Plan B’ despite rising infection rates and pressure from NHS bosses, doctors and many high profile scientists.
The scenarios assume that the rollout of boosters will be ‘rapid’ and have a ‘high uptake’ but do not look at the burden of flu on the NHS. Experts predict a big spike in influenza admissions this winter due to a lack of natural immunity on the back of lockdown.
SAGE urged ministers to be ready to bring in face masks, working from home and vaccine passports if the situation starts to deviate rapidly from the models.
Going hard and fast would reduce the need for ‘more stringent, disruptive and longer-lasting measures’ later down the line, the advisers concluded.
The UK is currently recording nearly 47,000 new infections each day after a spike at the start of the new school term, with rates nearly on par with the peak of the second wave.
But hospital admissions are rising much more slowly with an average of 875 per day now compared to 4,000 in mid-January, which Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said is ‘sustainable’.
SAGE’s modeling predicted that the combination vaccine-acquired immunity with natural protection would be sufficient to keep hospital rates at the levels of the second wave. Even in the most pessimistic scenarios the group predicted that daily Covid hospital admissions wouldn’t rise above 1,500. They would be below 1,000 in winter, according to more optimistic models. This chart was based on Warwick University modeling and shows how quickly people can return to pre-pandemic social contact.
Only 4million (purple line) of England’s 8.7million eligible persons (green line), have received the crucial third dose. Ministers are urging people to come forward to get their inoculations.
SAGE advised on October 13 that it would take both an increase in transmission rates as well as a continued waning in vaccination protection to bring about hospital admissions levels comparable to those in January 2021.
“Unless both of these things happen, or a new type of concern emerges,” it is highly unlikely that such high numbers of hospital admissions will be achieved in the coming autumn/winter.
SAGE stated that policy work on possible reintroductions of restrictions should be undertaken immediately so that they can be ready for rapid deployment, if necessary.
It concluded that while face masks provide some protection, working from home would offer the greatest benefits.
The group cautioned against complacency by stating that ‘a slower return of pre-pandemic behaviors and reduced waxing are both expected reduce and delay any further waves.
“There is still potential for an increase in hospital admissions if people change their behaviours quickly and if the waning is more severe and occurs after boosting.
Advisors stated that there was a decrease in self-reported precautionary behaviors such as wearing a mask on the face.
They claimed that the reintroduction or extension of working from home guidance will have the most individual impact on the transmission of the measures under Plan B.
The group also stated that there was some evidence suggesting that hospital rates may have reached their peak or are close to it, but acknowledged that there were many unknowns.
Complex sensitivities exist around the interplay of how behaviour changes over time, immune protection waning, and associated booster vaccination programme. The timing of the next peak is therefore uncertain. This could vary from “it has already happened” to “late into 2022”.
‘If vaccination protection does not decrease further than what is currently observed, then hospital admissions are unlikely to rise significantly.
“If booster vaccines are effective, have a high rate of uptake, and don’t wane over the timeframes considered here, then hospital admissions rates are also unlikely not to go much higher than they are now.
Hypotheses that result in hospital admissions below peak second-wave levels assume that 90% of eligible Britons will accept the offer of a booster.
It happened as England’s Covid cases surpassed 50 percent in the last week, with almost one in fifty being infected.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show around 977,900 were infected in England on any given day in the week up to October 16.
Since the country began to recover from its darkest days during the second wave of infected at the beginning of this year, the infection rate has declined.
Cases rose 9.88 per cent on last week’s figure of 890,000 — the fourth week in a row infections have increased.
The percentage of people who test positive in school is 7.8%, which is up from 7.1% week-on–week.
The number of cases is expected to have increased in all regions except south-east England, the West Midlands and north-east England, where it seemed to level off.
Separate data from the UK Health Security Agency (which took over from the now-defunct PHE) today showed that the R rate rose from 0.9 to 1.01 on last week.
Figures from the Department of Health — based on the Government’s official testing programme as opposed to the random swabbing of thousands of Brits — showed cases breached 50,000 for the first time in three months yesterday.
The Department of Health recorded 52,009 more infections, an increase of 15% on a week earlier and the highest number since July 17, the peak of the summer spike. The daily average is approaching the peak of the second wave.
Medics warn that the number of cases will continue rising unless Britain speeds up its vaccine booster rollout. Only 4million of England’s 8.7 million eligible patients have received a booster, which includes just a third of residents of care homes and half the over-80s.
Doctors warned today that the NHS is causing delays by sending text messages to elderly Britons who “do not know how their phones work”
Tory MPs fear Boris Johnson could put the nation back on a slippery slope’ to another lockdown if the Government’s coronavirus “Plan B” is activated.
Concerns have been raised about the possibility that the Prime Minister will soon have to implement his fallback strategy, which includes instructing people not to work from home and wearing face masks.
However, anti-lockdown Conservative MPs insist there should be no return of draconian curbs. They claim that the Government should not be ‘bullied into’ imposing new rules by health chiefs.
Meanwhile, hospitality bosses warn against imposing restrictions and warn the PM that many bars, restaurants and pubs will ‘go to war’.
The hospitality industry is concerned that even slight restrictions on touch could impact bookings and put Christmas at risk.
The Government has maintained that the triggering of Plan B is not imminent. Instead, the Government wants to concentrate on the rollout of vaccine booster shots.
Ministers spoke with a gloomy tone when they stated that the blueprint was ‘there for reasons’.
As they warned that the NHS is headed for a winter crisis and have called on the Government, health officials have already called on them to implement ‘Plan B.
Yesterday’s confirmed coronavirus cases exceeded 50,000, the highest daily reported number since July 17.
In the meantime, 115 more people died within 28 days after being tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the UK’s total to 139.146.
The hospitality industry is dependent on the period between Halloween and New Year’s Eve because bookings are usually at their highest before a lull in January or February.
However, there are growing concerns that coronavirus restrictions could soon be reimposed in the sector. This could cause consumer anxiety and could lead to a drop in confidence.
In the hope that the school break would stop the increase in cases, Johnson is reported to have delayed a decision about whether new Covid curbs will be needed until after half-term.
Phil Urban, chief executive of Mitchells & Butler, which owns pubs and restaurants including the All Bar One chain, told The Guardian: ‘People are very nervous and if you move to Plan B it puts Christmas at risk.
“The industry isn’t out of the woods. Just as we get our momentum, we’d have to be pulled from under us.”
UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls shared a similar sentiment and warned that many firms were’still fragile’.
She said that Christmas was lost in its entirety last year, so it was vital for survival, getting through the dark months of January and February, when people don’t come out as much.
“Many businesses are still in fragile situations. Any knock at this time could have an impact upon viability. People will just walk to the wall.
Some Tory MPs are opposed to any restrictions being reintroduced.
MailOnline was told by one MP that triggering “Plan B” could lead to a country going down a slippery slope towards another lockdown.
They said: ‘I am very concerned about the idea of moving to Plan B because you could see that slipping away into another lockdown.
‘Although the cases are high, the death rate is pretty low. It seems that if the booster rollout continues then it may keep things at bay.’
Marcus Fysh, Tory MP, stated that the Government shouldn’t be ‘bullied” into imposing additional curbs.
He said: ‘The position on this has been to get bullied on different things and I don’t think we should be doing that at this point.’
Gillian Keegan, Care Minister, stated this morning that the Government is still focused on the vaccine rollout and its main defense against the virus. She was also asked why Plan B has not been activated.
She told Sky News: ‘We laid out Plan A and Plan B and we have just started, as I say, five weeks ago Plan A.
‘The most important thing is to do all the tings I have just said: Get that vaccine rolled out, get those boosters rolled out.
‘And of course we have Plan B there. It’s there for a reason. We are focusing on the present moment.
‘We know that the vaccine is the best thing we do and really focusing on making sure that that is rolled out.’