Warning that potential autumn wave could see 1,000 hospital admissions per day
There is still potential for a “large” wave of Covid-19 in the autumn which could see 1,000 people admitted to hospital each day, an expert has warned.
Professor Neil Ferguson, infectious disease modeller and epidemiologist from Imperial College London, said current case rates are “sobering” heading into September when mixing will increase as schools return.
However, he added it is “unlikely” that any surge in hospital admissions will lead to levels of deaths seen earlier this year thanks to the vaccination programme.
He said a surge in cases will not be stopped through lockdowns, but instead population immunity.
His comments came after rules were eased so fully-vaccinated adults will no longer have to isolate if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.
Professor Ferguson (pictured) told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that case numbers have “plateaued” at around 30,000 per day, adding: “That’s a slightly sobering situation to be in coming into September.
“Our contact rates are about half of normal levels, and in school holidays children don’t have that many contacts.
“And we’ll be reopening schools, people will be going back to offices in September.
“So we still have the potential of quite a large wave of infection in September, October.”
As of 9am on Sunday, there had been a further 26,750 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, the Government said.
He added: “What we can be confident in is vaccination is protecting people against the most severe disease – so it’s very unlikely we’ll see levels of deaths, for instance, comparable with what we saw this January.
“The real question is more important, frankly, than the numbers of cases… is what does that do to NHS demand and admissions to hospitals? And in the worst-case scenarios we could be getting, probably not up to January levels, but still at levels of well over 1,000 admissions per day potentially.
“Which does stress the health system and we already have very long backlogs in the health system – any stress on it is is challenging.
“But there is a big difference – we’re not going to be stopping this way with lockdown, what it will stop with is the acquisition immunity of the population and so will naturally decline and that’s the point where we start living with Covid, where it becomes an endemic disease.”
Last week, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, suggested the concept of herd immunity is “not a possibility” due to the more transmissible Delta variant of the virus.
He referred to the idea as “mythical” and warned that a vaccination programme should not be built around the idea of achieving it.
Asked about the remarks, Prof Ferguson said: “People quote that 92% of adults have antibodies in the moment, but only about half of those are probably protected against infection so there’s a lot of transmission going on between vaccinated people.
“That said, vaccination still is having a downward pressure on transmission – it does provide some protection and probably reduces infectiousness of people.
“And so, just in terms of transmission, the situation would be much worse if we didn’t have vaccinations.
“To some extent we have this population immunity which is putting this downward pressure on virus – whether it’s ever going to be enough to stop transmission is an open question; we may move to a much more kind of endemic situation or hopefully low-level transmission in the population.
“And we know that immunity wanes over time so we’ll probably have to top up vaccination at some point.”
Meanwhile, Prof Ferguson said changes to self-isolation rules could lead to a “little” increase in cases if people do not get tested when asked to do so.
From Monday, people in England who have had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine, or are under 18, will not have to spend 10 days in quarantine if they are a contact of a positive case, a change which has been hailed “another step back towards normality”.
They will be advised to take a PCR test, but that will not be compulsory and they will not have to self-isolate while they wait for the result.
People who test positive will still be legally required to self-isolate.
One expert suggested that the tests should have been made compulsory.
Professor Stephen Reicher, from the University of St Andrews and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B) which advises the Government, told Sky News the vaccines are “not perfect”, adding: “You can still be hospitalised, you can still get infected, you can still infect others.
“So I think it’s really important to say to people that having a PCR test is absolutely vital – it should be more than just ‘Do it if you want to do it’.
“And what’s more, I think it would have made sense to ask people to self-isolate until they get the results of that test, but at the very least be cautious.”
He continued: “The problem is that if you now make it a choice to people as to whether to take a test, and therefore have to self-isolate if you’re positive, people aren’t going to take that test if they can’t afford to be positive.
“So we need to give people more support, so they can self-isolate.”
The professor of social psychology added: “If you give the message to people that once you’re double-vaccinated you are in fact immune, invulnerable, that you can’t get infected, you can’t infect others, you’re not going to be hospitalised – there is a very real danger that we increase the extent to which we socialise and we undermine the efforts against the pandemic; it’s really important to have a balanced message.”
From Monday in Northern Ireland, people who are close contacts of positive cases will no longer have to isolate for 10 days, as long as they test negative, have no symptoms and have had both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.
The change came into effect in Wales on August 7 when, instead of instructing fully-vaccinated adults to isolate, contact tracers and advisers started providing people with advice and guidance about how to protect themselves and stay safe.
In Scotland it is also already the case that double-vaccinated adults and all children can avoid self-isolation as a close contact so long as they are symptomless and provide a negative PCR test.
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