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Covid-19 hospital admissions could hit 25,000 next month, top scientist warns

By Harriet Line, Deputy Political Editor, and Sam Blewett, Political Correspondent, PA
·5-min read

Some 25,000 people could be in hospital with coronavirus by the end of next month if cases continue to rise, the Government’s former chief scientific adviser has warned.

Professor Sir Mark Walport suggested the death toll will continue to increase as there are “still very many people that are vulnerable” and relatively few people have had the virus.

And Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling prompted the UK-wide lockdown in March, told the PA news agency that restrictions in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas of England are “unlikely to cause daily cases and deaths to fall rapidly”.

He said modelling suggests this could leave the country with “high levels” of Covid cases, demand on health care and deaths “until spring 2021”.

Their warnings came amid fears the second wave of Covid-19 could be more deadly than the first.

A projection by Government scientists suggests the toll could remain high throughout the winter and result in more fatalities than in the spring, which have now topped 61,000.

Downing Street did not dismiss the analysis provided by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), seen by The Telegraph.

The paper said it had led to intense lobbying from experts, including chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Valance, to take more drastic action.

The Sun reports Sage analysis suggests the highest level of restrictions, Tier 3, may be needed across all of England by mid-December.

However, Cabinet minister George Eustice insisted another national lockdown is not necessary because “the measures we’re taking are certainly holding it back”.

Speaking on Times Radio, the Environment Secretary said the tiered system has kept the natural R rate of the virus of between 2.7 and 3 to the current level of between 1.4 and 1.5.

Mr Eustice said: “Sage themselves, when they posited that (a circuit-breaker lockdown) as one option, highlighted that it was uncertain how much it would achieve in two weeks and whether it would be enough, and also that there would be lots of negative consequences of such an intervention.”

Sage member Sir Mark said it is “certainly not unrealistic” to think of 25,000 people being in hospital by the end of November.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “France, which has a very similar population to us, currently has about 16,000 people in hospital, it’s got 2,500 in intensive care beds compared with 852 here, and roughly half the ICU beds in France are occupied. We’re seeing similar things in Spain.

“And these are in spite of these countries taking strong measures as well.

“So the answer is that with our current measures, which are similar but with variations in different parts of Europe, there’s still evidence that it’s not – there isn’t as much social distancing as there were when we clamped down on the first wave and so we know that the risk is significant that cases will continue to grow.”

Prof Ferguson told PA: “The concern at the moment is that even if the measures adopted in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas slow the spread in the next few weeks, they are unlikely to cause daily cases and deaths to fall rapidly.

“Modelling from all the academic groups informing Sage suggests that this could leave the country with high levels of Covid circulation, healthcare demand and mortality for several months, at least until Spring 2021.”

Meanwhile, the Government rejected demands from the Liberal Democrats to devise guidance for family gatherings at Christmas between all four UK nations.

Mr Eustice said having a “road map for Christmas is the wrong way of looking at this, when we actually need a road map to address the virus, which is what we’re trying to do”.

He said mixing between families who live in areas with different tier restrictions is “not provided for currently”, suggesting they may not be able to meet on Christmas Day.

On Tuesday, the Government said a further 367 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, while there were another 22,885 lab-confirmed cases of the virus.

The number of deaths is the highest daily figure since May 27, when 422 deaths were reported.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, warned the rising death toll from Covid-19 is likely to “continue for some time”.

The developments come amid speculation West Yorkshire will soon be moved into Tier 3.

But there was opposition from the Kirklees district where local leaders, including Conservative MPs Jason McCartney and Mark Eastwood, said they “do not feel comfortable agreeing” to Tier 3 “without any indication of how we get out of these restrictions and how long they will last”.

PA understands the whole of Nottinghamshire is likely to face Tier 3 restrictions by the end of the week, subject to last-minute changes.

Talks between the Government and local leaders in northern parts of the county have concluded, but negotiations are ongoing as to what the exact measures needed will be.

It is understood the restrictions are now likely to come into force on Friday.

Nottingham City, Broxtowe, Gedling and Rushcliffe council areas had been preparing for Tier 3 restrictions to come into force on Thursday.