Thursday, 3 Dec 2020

Second wave to peak in weeks with 'massive spike' just before Christmas

A number of cabinet ministers have reportedly backed calls from the Government’s scientific advisers for a second national lockdown amid warnings the second wave could peak just before Christmas.

Boris Johnson is considering imposing stringent new restrictions across the whole of England within days after experts cautioned that half a million people are being infected with Covid-19 each week.

The Prime Minister could announce the measures, which would see everything except essential shops and education settings closed for a month, as early as Monday, according the The Times.

Last week, ministers on the Government’s Covid-19 task force are said to have been briefed by the Joint Biosecurity Centre and shown heatmaps which painted a ‘terribly bleak’ picture of the situation in the north, where infections are on the verge of spiralling out of control despite regional restrictions.

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A Government source told the newspaper that the maps illustrated the spread of coronavirus across various age groups in the north ranging from orange to black – where confirmed cases were the highest.

They added: ‘Every age group was black, including the over-sixties.’

The source said the experts ‘were talking about hospitalisations exceeding the peak of the first wave by early next month’.

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam is also said to have warned ministers that control measures need to be implemented ‘hard and fast’ to avoid hospitals being overwhelmed in the winter.

The Times reports that one projection presented to Downing Street indicates that without significant interventions there could be a ‘massive spike’ in deaths around Christmas Eve.

Mr Johnson has so far resisted pressure from scientists and Labour to introduce a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown to curb Covid-19 cases.

But some cabinet ministers and scientific advisers at the top of Government now believe it is inevitable that England will follow France into a second national lockdown, the newspaper reports.

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), speaking in a personal capacity, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday that coronavirus is ‘running riot’ across all age groups.

He said: ‘For the naysayers that don’t believe in a second wave, there is a second wave.

‘And, unlike the first wave, where we had a national lockdown which protected huge swathes of society, this outbreak is now running riot across all age groups.’

Professor Semple told BBC Breakfast that ‘the tiered approach to restrictions hasn’t worked particularly well’.

When asked what could be achieved with a reported four-week lockdown, he said: ‘If that was applied nationally and was adhered to you would see a dramatic fall in hospital admissions and that’s in four weeks’ time.’

Fellow Sage scientist Professor John Edmunds said the only way to have a ‘relatively safe’ Christmas is to take ‘stringent’ action now to bring the incidence of the virus ‘right down’.

He said the current strategy ‘guarantees high incidence across the country over the winter’, and that, while restrictions do not have to be national, there is a danger that, even in the South West where cases are lower, hospitals will be under pressure within weeks.

Prof Edmunds said: ‘I think the only real way that we have a relatively safe Christmas is to get the incidence right down because otherwise I think Christmas is very difficult for people – nobody wants to have a disrupted Christmas holiday period where you can’t see your family and so on.

‘So I think the only way that that can be safely achieved is to bring the incidence right down, and in order to do that we have to take action now and that action needs to be stringent, unfortunately.’

All parts of England are on course to eventually end up in the strictest tier three restrictions, Government scientists believe, while deaths could potentially hit 500 per day within weeks.

They are also confident that more than 50,000 new cases of coronavirus are now occurring every day in England.

A senior Government scientific adviser said: ‘It’s definitely too late to think that the two week circuit-breaker on its own will sort this out. It would bring it down a bit but it wouldn’t be enough to bring (the R value) right down.

‘A two week circuit-breaker would have an effect but now almost certainly it would need to go on for longer to have a significant effect.’

While plans are also said to be underway to introduce an even tougher ‘tier four’ to try and tackle surges on a regional level – another cabinet source told The Times ‘nobody credible’ is now resisting the idea of nationwide lockdown measures.

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