THE UK’s looming third wave of coronavirus simply doesn’t risk overwhelming the NHS like the first two could have done, top experts have revealed.
Modelling by Imperial College London academics, who have previously provided some of our more ominous forecasts, said even with lockdown measures fully lifted in June, deaths would remain in the double digits.
The low numbers are due to the UK’s brilliant vaccine rollout which means the overwhelming our most vulnerable citizens should have some protection when the third wave does inevitably hit our shores.
While every death is a tragedy, those kind of numbers suggest the NHS would be more than able to cope with the number of increased hospitalisations, meaning lockdown measures are no longer necessary.
Modelling suggests even at the peak of the third wave, covid patients would take up around 5,000 hospital beds across the country – far fewer than the 30,000 beds we saw at the peak of the coronavirus crisis in January.
The modelling comes as the government was blasted for providing a grim vision of the next 12 months in which social distancing, twice-weekly covid testing and mandatory mask wearing could be required.
Scaling back some of his positive messaging around June 21 being “freedom day”, Boris Johnson did insist his lockdown roadmap was still on track at a press conference last night.
But earlier in the day data released by the government suggested the June 21 date could spark a fourth wave of coronavirus in the country by late summer / early Autumn.
The earlier the country unlocks, the worse the fourth wave will be, the report produced by the government’s SAGE advisory panel suggested.
SAGE also suggested social distancing and mask wearing would need to remain in place until this time next year – and said it only had “reasonable confidence’ that Covid will be manageable by spring 2022.
Read our coronavirus live blog below for the very latest news and updates on the pandemic…
BORIS SAYS GETTING PUBLIC VACCINATED IS ‘THE KEY THING’
Boris Johnson today said getting the population vaccinated was “the key thing”.
The PM told reporters at AstraZeneca’s Macclesfield plant it was “very important to stress that the best thing of all is to vaccinate our population, get everybody out getting the jab, that’s the key thing and that’s what I would advocate, number one”.
On the prospect of Covid status certification, Mr Johnson said several other countries were also looking at “the role of vaccination passports for overseas travel”, which was “going to be a fact of life, probably”.
UK ‘REPEATING LAST SUMMER’S MISTAKES’
The UK is already repeating the mistakes it made last summer as the Covid-19 lockdown starts to ease up, one scientist has warned.
Professor Devi Shridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University today said easing up restrictions when it comes to travel might be a “mistake”.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain she said: “Why are we focused on holidays abroad? It feels like we are repeating the mistakes of last summer.
“I’m afraid it we accelerate too quickly then there could potentially be another lockdown, and no one wants another lockdown, we can’t do this again.”
GOVT TRAVEL PLANS BLASTED
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss said that the Government’s traffic light system for reopening international travel should work towards enabling people to return from “green” countries without the need for coronavirus tests.
He said: “The essence of the framework should allow for a path to green and removal of testing and quarantine when it is safe to do so.”
He added: “We can’t have a prohibitively expensive testing system that puts businesses, people and families off travelling.
“Passengers travelling to and from ‘green’ countries should be able to do so freely, without testing or quarantine at all, and vaccinated passengers travelling to and from ‘amber’ countries should not face testing or quarantine.”
RETAILERS CONFIRM REOPENING PLANS
A host of retailers have confirmed reopening plans for April 12 as shoppers look forward to a return to bricks and mortar shopping after more than three months.
John Lewis outlined its plans for April 12 for its remaining 32 shops in England, which include customers finally being allowed to have their children’s feet measured for shoes.
Fitting rooms will be open, “customer service hosts” will manage customer numbers and queues and a returns process will involve new drop boxes and the quarantining of returned stock for 48 hours.
GLOBAL DEATHS CROSS 3 MILLION
Coronavirus-related deaths worldwide have crossed 3 million, according to a Reuters tally.
Worldwide fatalities are rising once again, especially in Brazil and India.
According to a Reuters tally, it took more than a year for the global coronavirus death toll to reach 2 million.
The next 1 million deaths were added in about three months.
A&E PATIENT NUMBERS FALL TO SECOND-LOWEST LEVEL ON RECORD
Accident and Emergency (A&E) attendances have plummeted to the second-lowest level recorded while thousands are still having to wait more than four hours to be seen, the latest NHS Scotland figures show.
A total of 80,423 patients visited an A&E department in February, 47,918 fewer than the same month last year – before coronavirus was discovered in Scotland.
Only April 2020 – the first full month of lockdown – recorded fewer visits to emergency wards, when 65,117 patients attended.
February also experienced the second-lowest percentage of patients seen within the Scottish Government’s four-hour target time during the pandemic.
VALNEVA RESULTS ‘VERY PROMISING’
Ministers have hailed “promising” early results of the Valneva vaccine as it moves on to Phase III trials.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “These results are very promising and provide renewed hope that a vaccine using a whole inactivated virus might provide strong protection against variants.
“If the results from the phase three clinical trials are positive and the vaccine meets the robust standards of safety, quality and effectiveness of our medicines regulator, the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency), this will be another powerful weapon in our arsenal to beat this pandemic.”
CASES RISE IN RUSSIA
Russia has reported 8,328 new coronavirus cases, taking the official national tally to 4,597,868.
The government coronavirus task force said 389 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing its death toll to 101,106.
GOVT REITERATES JAB PLEDGE
The Government has recommitted to its pledge to offer all adults a Covid-19 vaccination by summer.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said he is “confident” that the commitment to offer a jab to all adults by the end of July will be met.
He told BBC Breakfast: “It will be in deployment around the third week of April in the NHS and we will get more volume in May as well.
“And of course more volume of Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca, and we have got other vaccines. We have got the Janssen – Johnson and Johnson – vaccine coming through as well.
“So I am confident that we will be able to meet our target of mid-April offering the vaccine to all over-50s and then end of July offering the vaccine to all adults.”
VALNEVA COVID VACCINE SET FOR PHASE III TRIALS
The Valneva coronavirus vaccine is set for Phase Three trials next month following positive results in early stage clinical trials.
The French drugmaker tested its vaccine in 153 adults with three dose levels based on a schedule of two doses with vaccinations three weeks apart.
The jab, Valneva said, was “generally safe and well tolerated across all dose groups tested, with no safety concerns identified by an independent Data Safety Monitoring Board”.
Valneva has signed a deal with Britain for up to 190 million doses by 2025 in a transaction potentially worth up to €1.4 billion.
LABOUR & TORY REBELS UNITE OVER VACCINE PASSPORTS
Boris Johnson’s plan to introduce Covid passports for Brits has already run into major trouble, with Labour threatening to team up with Tory rebels to vote it down.
So far 41 Tories have put their names to a letter calling vaccine passports “divisive and discriminatory”, putting the Government’s majority of 87 in jeopardy and meaning it may need the support of opposition MPs.
And Labour sources said leader Sir Keir Starmer is set to oppose the Government’s vaccine passport plans in their current form, and wants to focus on getting everyone vaccinated instead.
3RD WAVE ‘DEPENDS ON IMPACT OF VACCINATION’
Asked why the third wave predictions are so pessimistic when vaccine uptake is high, Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the impact of vaccination on transmission remains “uncertain”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It really just depends upon the impact of vaccination, particularly on transmission, so whether or not people can get infected and pass the virus on.
“And we just don’t know that. The vaccine hasn’t been around in people in the real world… only in December it started… so we don’t know what effect it’s going to have in three, four months’ time and that’s the real unknown.
“So it’s a question of genuine uncertainty.”
INCREASE IN CASES ‘INEVITABLE’
Professor Graham Medley from the LSHTM, chairman of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), which advises the Government, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme a third wave could result in more deaths.
He said the three independent models – published by Sage – LSHTM, Warwick and Imperial College London – “show that, as we open up, as the virus starts to transmit some more, and because the vaccine isn’t 100% safe, then it’s almost inevitable that we will see some increase in infections, and potentially hospitalisations and deaths”.
He said the LSHTM modelling was “quite a pessimistic view” but “it is plausible, it’s not extreme”.
EASYJET BOSS BLASTS TRAVEL PLANS
Requiring holidaymakers returning from low-risk countries to pay for two coronavirus tests will only reopen international travel “for people who can afford it”, the boss of easyJet has warned.
Chief executive Johan Lundgren claimed passengers should not face “more complexities and cost” for visiting “green” destinations.
Yesterday, the Government unveiled the outline of a traffic light system for enabling overseas leisure travel to resume as part of the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Quizzed on the proposals, Mr Lundgren told BBC Breakfast: “It should not be needed to put any more complexities and cost in order to travel to and from those destinations.”
He said PCR tests are “way over and above what the cost is of an average easyJet fare”.
‘THERE MAY WELL BE’ A THIRD WAVE IN THE UK, SAYS EXPERT
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Spi-M modelling group which advises the Government, said “there may well be” a third wave in the UK but probably not as high as some modelling predicts.
He told LBC radio: “I think we do have very high levels of vaccination now, we do need to remember this, we are protecting our vulnerable.
“But the vaccines are not 100% protective so when we switch from an R number less than 1 that we have at the moment, to a lot of mixing later on, we may get a resurgence.
“I don’t expect we will have a resurgence of the same scale that we saw in January.”
UK MAKING ‘GOOD PROGRESS’ BUT 3RD WAVE POSSIBLE
Professor Walport, added “very good progress” was being made on the road map – but a third wave was possible if the brakes are taken off completely.
He said: “It’s clear that we’re making good progress along the road map, and it’s entirely appropriate that the first set of restrictions are being relaxed so that makes very good sense indeed.
“But we’re a long way from taking the brakes off completely. The vaccine rollout is going incredibly well… we’ve seen deaths fall fairly precipitously…
“This is all very good news, but we’ve only got to look across the Channel and see that France currently has over 39,000 new cases a day, so the virus is still very much around and if we take all the brakes off, then it’s quite clear that there is a very substantial risk of a further wave of infection.”
NORMALITY ‘A FEW YEARS AWAY’
Professor Sir Mark Walport, a member of SAGE, told BBC Breakfast it could take a few years to get back to normal completely.
Asked how long social distancing and face masks might be part of people’s lives, he said: “We’ve lived with flu for many years, and we are unfortunately going to have to live with coronavirus, but we know that over time it will change its relationship with us in the sense that more humans will be immune.”
He said flu in a bad year can kill up to 20,000 people “and so, unfortunately, this is another of the infections that particularly kills more vulnerable, elderly people.
“I suspect we’re going to have to live with some measure of social restrictions at least throughout this year, and we’ll see, hopefully next year we’ll be more and more normal, and in a couple of years we should return to complete normality.”
LABOUR CALLS VACCINE PASSPORTS ‘DISCRIMINATORY’
Labour has said the use of so-called vaccine passports in the UK would be “discriminatory”.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told BBC Breakfast the party was “very sceptical” and wanted more details about how they would work.
“I’m not going to support a policy that, here in my Leicester constituency, if someone wants to go into Next or H&M, they have to produce a vaccination certificate on their phone, on an app.
“I think that’s discriminatory.”
MODERNA JAB DUE ‘IN TWO WEEKS’
The Moderna vaccine will be in deployment “around the third week of April”, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has confirmed.
“It will be in deployment around the third week of April in the NHS and we will get more volume in May as well,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“And of course more volume of Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca and we have got other vaccines. We have got the Janssen – Johnson and Johnson – vaccine coming through as well.
“So I am confident that we will be able to meet our target of mid-April offering the vaccine to all over-50s and then end of July offering the vaccine to all adults.”
MHRA ‘HAVE LOOKED CLOSELY’ AT ADVERSE EFFECT OF JABS
Mr Zahawi said that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) looked “very closely” at reports of adverse reactions to the vaccines.
Asked about reports that regulators are considering proposals to restrict the use of the Oxford jab in younger people, Mr Zahawi told BBC Breakfast: “The regulators absolutely look at, very closely, any adverse incidents through the yellow card system.
“And June Raine, who is the chief executive of the MHRA, our independent regulator, said last night that if you get the invite for the vaccine to take that invitation and get the vaccine and get protected.
“At the same time, they are looking at these very rare instances of blood clotting. To put it in perspective, we have done almost 20 million vaccinations using the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
“Both vaccines have saved something like 6,300 lives between December and the end of February, so it’s important to continue to follow what the clinicians, the scientists, the regulators tell us.”
‘DIFFICULT ETHICAL QUESTIONS’
On international use of vaccine passports, Mr Zahawi told Sky News: “It’s important that we make sure that, operationally, that the protocols are designed and work in a way that is really advantageous to our citizens.
“Which is why the taskforce, looking at this, is working through those protocols, at the same time as the NHS is operationally making it viable.
“So if people do need their certificate, if and when it is appropriate for them to travel, then they will be able to have that certification available to them.
“Use of certification domestically does throw up a number of difficult ethical questions, which is why Michael Gove has been consulting with businesses, with stakeholders, with colleagues in Parliament, so that we listen to all sorts of views.”
MPS WILL BE ABLE TO VOTE ON JAB PASSPORTS
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed that MPs will be able to vote on the use of domestic vaccine passports should the Government decide to roll them out.
Asked if MPs will get a vote, Mr Zahawi told Times Radio: “We haven’t even got to the stage where we have decided what we want to do on this domestically, because there are so many issues that do need careful consideration.
“Michael Gove is consulting with all stakeholders, including Parliamentarians, so we are not there yet.
“But the Prime Minister made it very clear, if we do get to that place, then of course we will go to Parliament for a vote.”
Boris Johnson said he plans to stick “like glue” to his plan for easing restrictions despite scientific advisers warning it could create a wave of Covid infections akin to that seen during spring last year.
The Prime Minister confirmed shops, hairdressers and pub beer gardens will reopen from April 12 in England and urged the public against complacency when it came to obeying the rules.
Mr Johnson, setting out the move to the second step of the road map on Monday, said the shift was “fully justified by the data” and that he had seen “nothing” to make him think he would have to “deviate” from his intention to scrap all restrictions by June 21 at the earliest.
His comments come despite modelling from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) showing that, while stage two of the unlocking is unlikely to exert pressure on the NHS, the proposed changes for May and June when social mixing is set to be permitted again could cause hospital admissions to rise to levels seen during January’s winter peak.
The family of a ‘hugely loved’ nurse who died from Covid-19 have been given a cast of her hand as a tribute from a colleague who worked with her.
Estrella Catalan, 52, worked as a staff nurse in the emergency department at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) before succumbing to coronavirus in February this year.
Mrs Catalan had worked at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for more than 18 years and her death triggered an overwhelming reaction from both members of the public and those that knew her.
Her family have now been given a cast of Mrs Catalan’s hand as part of a moving tribute from Sarah Cowles, an assistant theatre practitioner in emergency theatres at the N&N.
North Korea will not attend this year’s Tokyo Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pyongyang’s sports ministry said, blowing the final whistle on Seoul’s hopes of using the Games to restart talks with its nuclear-armed neighbour.
The isolated North’s participation in the last Winter Games, hosted by the South in Pyeongchang, was a key catalyst in the diplomatic rapprochement of 2018.
Leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong attended as his envoy in a blaze of publicity, and the South’s President Moon Jae-in seized the opportunity to broker talks between Pyongyang and Washington that led to a series of high-profile meetings between Kim and then US president Donald Trump.
But Pyongyang’s announcement puts an end to Seoul’s hopes of using the postponed Tokyo Games, due to begin in July, to kick off a reset in the now deadlocked talks process.