The United Kingdom is “on the brink of an edge” in its coronavirus crisis and is facing a very real threat of a second flare-up in winter, warned one of the government’s key advisers.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the London-based charity, The Wellcome Trust, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said he was “concerned” about the prospect of the virus returning.
He said he expects the number of people diagnosed with the virus to increase in the next two weeks and until July.
Next Saturday, July 4, is expected to see the biggest easing of lockout rules since March in England as pubs reopen and people are allowed to mix with other households.
Sir Jeremy said that the country is facing a “very precarious situation” and that examples are already emerging from people who flout the rules of social distancing.
Crowds were photographed last week on Bournemouth Beach, police dispersed raves and parties in London and Liverpool FC fans celebrating the Premier League team victory party on the street against the official notice.
The head of the Wellcome Trust said it would be even more difficult to control a second peak in winter when people will have trouble distinguishing Covid-19 from a cold or flu.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that people should think more about going to work when they are sick because of the risk of coronavirus.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, member of the SAGE government committee of scientists, said that England was in a “very precarious situation”.
Sir Jeremy said: “In truth, the restrictions began to be lifted in late May, early June, around this holiday.
“I predict, I suppose, that we will start to see some case increases towards the end of June or the first week of July.
“We are on the edge – the situation is very precarious – especially in England at the moment, and I anticipate that we will see an increase in new cases in the coming weeks. “
The Department of Health has diagnosed an average of 1,018 cases of Covid-19 per day in the past week, the lowest weekly average since late March.
But there are still believed to be tens of thousands of people infected with the virus – the National Statistics Office estimates around 51,000 at any one time.
The ONS warned this week that the decline in the number of people infected – which had been rapid since May – has now “stabilized”.
This means that the epidemic is not decreasing as quickly as before and that there is a risk that it will start to increase again.
MILLION MORE PEOPLE MAY DIE IN THE SECOND WORLD WAVE OF COVID-19, WHICH WARNS
Millions of people around the world could die if there was a second wave of coronavirus infections, the World Health Organization warned on Friday.
Dr Ranieri Guerra, Deputy Director General for Strategic Initiatives at WHO, said the pandemic has spread so far as health officials had expected.
Comparing COVID-19 to the Spanish flu epidemic over 100 years ago, Guerra said that the older pandemic “resumed violently” in September and October – when temperatures were cooler – after a drop.
He told Rai TV in Italy: “The comparison is with the Spanish flu, which behaved exactly like Covid: it decreased in summer and resumed violently in September and October, causing 50 million deaths during the second wave. “
His warning was echoed by the director of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, who said on Friday that “of course, there could be a second severe wave if we learn something about the Spanish flu of 1918-19. “
The Spanish flu epidemic has ravaged many countries around the world, including Britain, where more than 220,000 have been killed and the United States, where 675,000 have died.
The virus first appeared in the spring of 1918, but appears to have mutated when it resurfaced in the fall, resulting in a second, more deadly wave.
It was made worse by the fact that it struck as the First World War came to an end.
“He came back roaring and was much worse,” said epidemiologist Dr. William Hanage of Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health said.
This is likely due to the fact that the lockout rules have eased significantly in the past six weeks, but it could be a sign of danger if the numbers start to rise again.
The ONS, which based its estimate on only 14 positive tests from a sample of 24,256 people, said: “Modeling the trend over time suggests that the decline in the number of people testing positive in England has stabilized in recent weeks.
“These estimates suggest that the percentage of positive tests has clearly decreased over time since our first measurement on April 26, and this downward trend has now flattened out. “
Although the rate at which the epidemic in England is contracting has slowed – which would be expected as the lock is lifted – Sir Jeremy agreed that it was “reasonable” to continue to relax the rules.
It would have been too early to do so a month ago, he said, and still urged people to be “really careful”.
He was particularly concerned that people were close to others inside, admitting that being outside was safer.
He added, “There is no zero risk in all of this. We are not at the stage where the virus has disappeared … It remains the same virus.
Learning to contain epidemics locally could avert a second national disaster like the one that hit the whole of the UK in March, he said.
Fall and winter should be a real second wave, said Sir Jeremy – he predicted it could start in October and November.
Accelerating this risk would be the fact that normal colds and flu will circulate by then, and people will find it difficult to tell the difference between these and Covid-19.
The main symptoms of Covid-19 are a new cough or fever (high temperature), as defined by the British government. The third is a changed or lost smell or taste.
All three of these symptoms can be caused by the flu and the common cold, and people may end up self-isolating with the common cold or going to work with Covid-19 amidst the confusion.
He said, “The really hard thing for all of us in September, October is when we all have a normal cough and cold and the kids go back to school and have normal respiratory infections at this time of year: do we have the ability to distinguish normal respiratory infections – flu and others – from Covid-19?
“Can we stop the chains of transmission immediately, within 48 hours, when new cases start?
“And there will be some disruption to that as people with coughs and colds get to work, go to schools, and people have to think about the consequences of that.”
“In July and August, if we do things wisely, we can prevent the national disaster that occurred in March and April.
“If we don’t – if we don’t have this basic national infrastructure in place – then we will see a very bad rebound in winter. “