Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific advisor, told the Parliamentary Committee on Health and Welfare today: “I can tell you that a second peak is something very real, which you need to watch out for. and that you can see in other countries. “
To date, Covid-19 has lost more than 29,000 lives in the UK, and that number is expected to continue to increase in the coming days and weeks.
It is feared that a rapid relaxation of the lock-out measures will again lead to an increase in the virus and a risk of exceeding the NHS resulting in tens of thousands more deaths.
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Sir Patrick was asked if there was a risk of a second wave hitting the UK when people return from other countries, especially those who have not yet reached their peak.
He said a calculation had been made about three weeks ago on the likely impact of imported cases in terms of the total number of virus cases in the UK.
He said, “At that time, when you took all of the trips and took all of the numbers that went in, it would have represented something less than 0.5% of all the cases that would have entered through the import bias.
“Now, clearly, this equation is reversed when you go down to very low numbers in your own country and you have higher numbers elsewhere, and this is where you have to be careful about how you think about it. isolation and testing of incoming cases.
“But, again, this is a pandemic, it means it’s everywhere, and so the cases can come from anywhere in the world. “
Asked about the likelihood of a second wave, Sir Patrick said: “I think if we test, follow and plot well, and keep social distancing measures at the right level, we should be able to avoid a second wave. “
However, he said he wanted to add a warning “which is winter is going to be extremely difficult when you also have the flu in circulation, and you have all the other respiratory infections.”
Sir Patrick said today that the R number – the number of people infected with each Covid-19 transporter – is 0.6 to 0.9 but lower in London.
This falls short of “something close to 3” in the early stages of the pandemic and means that the virus is not spreading exponentially.
However, he warned that we are still “fairly early” in the epidemic and “it does not mean that everything is gone.”
Sir Patrick said that “the vast majority of people” who have had a coronavirus get “some form of antibody response” – but that does not mean they are immune.
He said, “An antibody response is likely in most people to provide some form of immune protection.
“But how much we don’t know. The experience of other coronaviruses suggests that it can last one, two, three years but not many years. “
Sir Patrick warned that no measure facilitating locking would be completely safe.
He told MEPs, “Nothing will be without risk. As we get back to less social distancing there will be a risk of an outbreak somewhere or a few more cases or in the worst case R goes above 1. We need a monitoring system very effective at detecting this. “
He was asked if he knew in March what is known now, whether events such as Cheltenham and the Champions League match would have been allowed.
He said, “In terms of what I would do in retrospect, if we then knew what we know now, I think that is something to consider for the future.
“And there will certainly be times when the evidence will not allow you to make decisions that you could make now, and there will be times when you will look back and say that something could have been done differently, I have not no doubt about that. “
He added: “I think this is a new virus, we don’t know it, it’s something no one has seen before and so inevitably we learn as we go. “