Recent data on deaths and Covid infection rates in the UK are ‘very encouraging’, and although a third wave of infections was possible in late summer, it was unlikely that ‘it overwhelms the NHS, said leading epidemiologist Neil Ferguson.
Professor Ferguson, of Imperial College London, who advises the government, said he “felt quite optimistic that we wouldn’t be completely back to normal, but something that looks a lot more normal to here in summer ”.
With one death from Covid reported on Monday and infection levels at their lowest for eight months in the UK, Ferguson said: “The data is very encouraging and very much in line with what we expected. “
“While we see the cases leveling off right now – and they might start to increase slightly – mortality, deaths and hospitalizations are still on the decline, and we expect them to continue to drop, maybe increase a bit next month, but only to manageable levels, which puts us in a very good position to meet the government’s roadmap – easing some restrictions in a few weeks, then many more in June.
Concerns he and his team had about the end of summer and fall “were diminishing,” he said, with research showing people vaccinated were less contagious. “And that lowered our estimates of the size of any potential fall wave. “
Ferguson added that the risk of vaccines being less effective against variants was “the major concern” that could still lead to “a very significant third wave in the fall”.
It was “essential to deploy booster doses, which can protect against this, as soon as we have practically finished vaccinating the adult population, which should be completed by the summer”.
On the safe reopening of international travel, he said a major caveat would be if the vaccination was undermined by variants, such as the South African one, spreading out of control.
But, he added, if in summer the infection rates in France and Italy, for example, are the same as in the UK, “then there is no risk associated with travel. abroad”.
“The risk comes from a place like the UK with very low infection levels and going to a place with much higher infection levels and therefore the risk of bringing the infection back”, a- he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program, adding that he had not. booked a vacation abroad.
Regarding the prospect of removing the 1-meter plus rule on social distancing in June, Ferguson said, “We have factored these into the modeling that we have undertaken. So, to be clear, we expect transmission and to some extent hospitalizations and deaths to increase in late summer if we get back to normal completely, but to a much lower level than what we saw, for example, in December and January.
“So this is obviously a political judgment on what is acceptable in terms of the number of infections, but we see no prospect of, say, the NHS being overwhelmed – with the caveat of the variants that I’ve mentioned before – so it’s always a matter of judgment.
As long as symptomatic people still isolate themselves and the testing and traceability system continues for at least a few more months, “this will keep some kind of cover on how quickly infections can increase.”
He said it would take ‘much higher infection levels in society in order to risk overwhelming the NHS and we believe that actually won’t happen unless a variant happens that resets again That relation”.