A leaked report tonight revealed some of the science behind Boris Johnson’s ever-tighter coronavirus restrictions – and his reluctance to give in to pressure to pull a roadmap out of lockdown.
The document, apparently presented to the Prime Minister this summer and obtained by The Spectator magazine, presents a “worst case planning scenario” that could see a second wave of Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations much worse than the first wave in the spring . and hanging around until March or April 2021.
The document, produced in July by the Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage), does not represent a forecast or prediction of what will happen.
But it presents a grim scenario in which 85,000 people could die from Covid by April, with 356,000 spending time in hospital and infections peaking at 100,000 per day.
The potential deaths compare with the official tally of 58,925 deaths with Covid-19 on the outbreak’s death certificate so far, after 24,701 daily cases and 310 deaths reported on Wednesday.
It emerged when French President Emmanuel Macron announced a second national lockdown for at least the entire month of November.
And Cabinet Minister George Eustice has not ruled out restrictions on Christmas travel for those subject to the most stringent Level 3 restrictions.
“We want to be in a position where people can meet as a family. Can this happen on a large scale? Well it could be harder, if we’re honest, ”the environment secretary said Radio Times.
“But nonetheless we want Christmas to be celebrated and families to be able to celebrate and mark Christmas, it is a very important family moment.
And public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally of the University of Bristol said The independent that the prime minister was running out of time to impose a nationwide lockdown on “circuit breakers” if he wanted to retain the option of a brief lockdown amnesty to allow family reunions over Christmas.
Although the leaked document makes it clear that things could be better than a worst-case scenario, his warnings about the seriousness of their problems will have been heeded by the Prime Minister when developing his three-tier system of regional restrictions. and gradually tightened them to include first Merseyside, then Lancashire, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Warrington and Nottinghamshire in the toughest “very high alert” Tier 3.
The document’s central hypothesis is a “difficult fall followed by a big winter peak”, with the virus doubling every two weeks. After the first month, he says non-family contact should be reduced to half of their pre-pandemic level while schools remain open.
And he adds: “The measures are maintained until the end of March 2021.”
According to the newspaper, deaths are expected to increase in December, with 500 or more deaths each day in the worst case scenario for at least three months and a peak of 800 daily deaths at the end of February.
In this scenario, second wave deaths would reach around 85,000 by the end of March, but more people would die as the epidemic subsided in the following months.
The NHS is expected to be ready to treat up to 25,000 Covid patients in hospital at any time – well above the peak of 19,849 in the first wave.
In February, in a worst-case scenario, new Covid infections would peak at 100,000 per day, of which 2,400 would have to be hospitalized, 492 end up in intensive care and 700 die.
The second wave of the coronavirus was particularly felt in hospitals in the north of England, where some areas have seen nearly a fifth of hospital beds occupied by Covid-19 patients.
Routine operations have been canceled by hospital trusts in Nottingham, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Bradford as the number of Covid-19 patients has matched or exceeded those seen during the peak of the first wave in April.
During the first wave, the NHS saw a sudden surge in hospital admissions with the highest daily number of 3,584 patients on April 1.
At one point, the NHS was treating 19,000 coronavirus patients, many of them on ventilators in makeshift intensive care beds, as hospitals were forced to cancel routine operations to free up staff.
Since the first wave, hospitals have learned more about the disease and its treatments, with more patients being kept away from ventilators.
With more than 9,500 patients in UK hospitals on Wednesday, the capacity of many hospitals is already shrinking.
Worst Case represents the most pessimistic view of how the pandemic could develop in the UK, and is much darker than the alternative models developed by other scientists.
Professor Karl Friston of University College London, a member of the Independent Sage group of scientists, said projections using the “dynamic causal modeling” method saw infections drop much earlier, peaking at around 200 in November.
The model takes into account existing government policies – including the ability to tighten restrictions in response to peak cases – as well as observed public behavior.
“If all goes according to how we have behaved as a population so far, the model predicts that we will peak in terms of deaths in a few weeks,” he said. The independent.
However, Prof Friston stressed that any projection is subject to the assumptions introduced into the model. A worst-case scenario should include assumptions such as low immunity after recovery or poor public response to safety guidelines, to demonstrate how events could develop in a negative way.
“The notion of a second prolonged wave after Christmas is consistent with a mechanism of viral transmission that results in loss of immunity, so people can catch the virus more than once,” he said.
A government spokesperson said: “As a responsible government, we continue to prepare for a wide range of scenarios, including the reasonable worst-case scenario.
‘We have made significant progress in our approach – we have provided the NHS with additional funding of £ 3bn to help them continue to provide high quality care as winter approaches, treatments like dexamethasone have been shown to save lives and there are promising advances in vaccine research thanks to government-supported scientific research.