Report warns of a further 120,000 deaths in the UK unless preparations made for second wave of Covid-19 3 weeks ago

Report warns of a further 120,000 deaths in the UK unless preparations made for second wave of Covid-19

There have been just under 45,000 deaths related to Covid-19 in the United Kingdom to date.

A report by the Academy of Medical Sciences has warned of the potential for just under 120,000 deaths in the United Kingdom between September 2020 and June 2021 if adequate preparations are not made for a second wave of Covid-19.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, only the United States and Brazil have recorded more deaths related to Covid-19 than the United Kingdom (44,915 as of 14 July) to date.

A report from the Academy of Medical Sciences published on Tuesday (14 July), however, warns that the UK must prepare for a potential new wave of infections that will be more serious than the first.

The reasons outlined for such a stark warning are the combination of the disruption already created in the health service by Covid-19, a backlog of patients needing NHS assessment and treatment and the possibility of a flu epidemic, all of which pose “a serious risk to health” in the UK.

As well as that, the usual challenges winter presents to the health service will also be a factor, when other infectious diseases are more common and conditions such as asthma, heart attack, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and stroke tend to worsen.

Modelling of a ‘worst-case scenario’ in the report – with the R rate rising to 1.7 from September 2020 onwards – suggests that there would be a peak in hospital admissions and deaths in January and February 2021 similar to or worse than the first wave in spring 2020, coinciding with a period of peak demand on the NHS.

While the report notes that there is a high degree of uncertainty about how Covid-19 will evolve, the model estimates that the number of Covid-19-related hospital deaths (excluding care homes) between September 2020 and June 2021 could be as high as 119,900.

Such a figure, however, does not take account of the fact that the UK Government would act to reduce the transmission rate, or the recent results from a trial to treat patients in intensive care with the steroid dexamethasone, which could substantially reduce death rates.

As such, the report, titled ‘Preparing for a challenging winter 2020/21’, stresses the need for “intense preparation” before September to reduce the risk of the health service being overwhelmed and to save lives this winter.

That preparation, the report notes, should include:

  • Minimising transmission of coronavirus in the community, with a public information campaign for all, as well as advice tailored to individuals and communities at high risk.
  • Reorganising health and social care staff and facilities to maintain Covid-19 and Covid-19-free zones, and ensure there is adequate PPE, testing and system-wide infection-control measures to minimise transmission in hospitals and care homes.
  • Increasing capacity of the test, trace and isolate programme to cope with the overlapping symptoms of Covid-19, flu and other winter infections.
  • Establishing a comprehensive, near-real-time, population-wide surveillance system to monitor and manage a winter wave.
  • Guarding against the worst effects of flu with a concerted effort to get people at risk, and health and care workers, safely vaccinated.

The report was assembled by 37 experts at the request of the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor and chaired by Professor Stephen Holgate FMedSci, a respiratory specialist from University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

Commenting on the report, Holgate said: “This is not a prediction, but it is a possibility. The modelling suggests that deaths could be higher with a new wave of Covid-19 this winter, but the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately.

“With relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases at the moment, this is a critical window of opportunity to help us prepare for the worst that winter can throw at us.”

You can read the report in full here.