Britain faces a potentially more deadly second wave of COVID-19 in the coming winter that could kill up to 120 000 people over nine months in a worst-case scenario, health experts said on Tuesday.
With COVID-19 more likely to spread in winter as people spend more time together in enclosed spaces, a second wave of the pandemic “could be more serious than the one we’ve just been through,” said Stephen Holgate, a professor and co-lead author of a report by Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS).
“This is not a prediction, but it is a possibility,” Holgate told an online briefing. “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.”
The United Kingdom’s current death toll from confirmed cases of COVID-19 is around 45 000, the highest in Europe. Including suspected cases, more than 55 000 people have died, according to a Reuters tally of official data sources.
The AMS said there is a “high degree of uncertainty” about how the UK’s COVID-19 epidemic will evolve, but outlined a “reasonable worst-case scenario” where the reproduction number — or R value — rises to 1.7 from September 2020 onwards.
The R value — the average number of people an infected person will pass a disease on to — is currently between 0.7 and 0.9 in the UK and daily case and death numbers are falling. An R value above 1 can lead to exponential growth.
AMS vice president Anne Johnson said a bad winter flu season, combined with large backlog of patients suffering other diseases and chronic conditions, would add to huge pressure on health services — underlining a need to prepare now.
“COVID-19 has not gone away,” she said. “We need to do everything we can to stay healthy this winter.”