Winter wave of coronavirus may be worse than first; warns scientists Planning underway to tackle the situation: Matt Hancock

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LONDON: The UK could see about 120,000 new coronavirus deaths in a second wave of infections this winter, scientists say. Asked to model a “reasonable” worst-case scenario, they suggest a range between 24,500 and 251,000 of virus-related deaths in hospitals alone, peaking in January and February.

The estimate does not take into account any lockdowns, treatments or vaccines. And the scientists say: “The risk… could be reduced if we take action immediately”. The report, requested by the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, stresses there is still a high degree of uncertainty over how the coronavirus pandemic will play out this winter.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

But research suggests the virus can survive longer in colder conditions and is more likely to spread when people spend more time indoors. And experts are concerned the NHS will be under extreme pressure, not just from a resurgence of coronavirus but also from seasonal flu and a backlog of regular, non-coronavirus workload.

The health service is already severely disrupted in the aftermath of the first pandemic wave, with a waiting list that could stand at 10 million by the end of this year, the report says.

Prof Stephen Holgate, a respiratory specialist from University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, who chaired the report, said: “This is not a prediction – but it is a possibility. “The modelling suggests that deaths could be higher with a new wave of Covid-19 this winter. But the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately.”

Recommendations

It recommends increasing capacity of the test-and-trace programme, to cope with the overlapping symptoms of coronavirus, flu and other winter infections

Getting more people vaccinated against flu.

Ensuring hospitals and care homes have enough personal protective equipment (PPE).

Creating coronavirus-free zones in hospitals and care homes, to halt infections

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said planning was already under way for dealing with the expected surge in demand on the NHS this winter. The government had procured enough flu vaccine to roll out the “biggest flu vaccine programme in history” and was working on setting up a coronavirus vaccination programme should a successful vaccine be found, he added.