Covid restrictions, including masks, could return in 3 weeks if hospital admissions skyrocket, Sage scientists warn


England may only have three weeks to prevent coronavirus restrictions from being reimposed after Sage scientists urged ministers to take action if hospital admissions exceed expected levels.

Science advisers have warned Boris Johnson should be ready to act during the first week of August to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed by the end of this month.

Modeling has suggested that the central case of daily hospitalizations in the UK at the peak of the third wave – expected in late August – could be between 1,000 and 2,000, with deaths expected between 100 and 200 per day.

Yet the latest figures show that by mid-July, six weeks before the expected peak, 745 patients were admitted to hospitals in the UK in one day, and that figure continued to rise even before the July 19 easing of all restrictions on so called “freedom day”.

Last week, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said hospitalizations were doubling about every three weeks.

That would suggest close to 1,500 admissions by the end of the first week of August, well above the trajectory of the central scenario of the third wave. It would show 3,000 at the peak by the end of this month, which would correspond to the peak of the first wave in April 2020.

Insiders pointed out that there is a lot of uncertainty in the modeling, and the picture will change all the time depending on vaccination and people’s behavior after July 19.

But if admissions exceed central estimates, Sage scientists have advised reintroducing certain non-pharmaceutical measures, such as mandatory masks and advice for working from home, in early August, midway between the July 19 unlock and the peak expected at the end of August.

This early intervention, they say, would prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed by a late-summer crisis.

As of Tuesday, there were 46,558 new cases of the coronavirus in the UK, while another 96 people died, the highest daily death rate since mid-March.

Experts cautioned against forecasting hospital admission rates two to three weeks in advance, but stressed that contingency plans should be in place to reintroduce short-term measures.

Last week, when the Prime Minister gave the green light for the fourth and final leg of the roadmap in England, he admitted that some restrictions may need to be reimposed if the situation worsens.

A source said it took “less emergency braking and more gear shifting” to be ready to keep the third wave “under control”.

While mandatory masks would be the “easiest” way to curb transmission, with minimal impact on the economy if they were limited to public transport and essential settings like supermarkets, this should be weighed against. the “totemic” impact it would have on the public if they were ordered to cover up again.

But others argue the government should be prepared to take tougher action.

Professor Dominic Harrison, Director of Public Health for Blackburn, said: “Any return to non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPRIs) to control the spread should focus on those that give the greatest suppressing effect.

“In essence, we might expect a reversal of the stages of lifting the lockdown, with each ‘reverse stage’ being introduced to match the magnitude of the surge in cases.”

Professor Harrison added that the increase in hospitalizations may be due to the fact that the admission bar is lower now, while there is less pressure on the NHS, than in the first wave in April 2020 and of the second wave in January of this year.

He said: “The current increase in hospital cases is difficult to clearly interpret. It is likely that some now hospitalized cases did not reach the hospital admission threshold in the last wave of January because the system is “adaptive”.

“Some now hospitalized cases may have been managed by home care in ‘virtual COVID services’ when the system was under the most case pressure in the last wave.

“However, for anyone with significant symptoms, hospitalization will give the best chance of high-quality care and close monitoring of risk – so a lower (current) admission threshold may maintain death rates too. low as possible. “

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