A SECOND wave of coronavirus this winter could be worse than the first and kill 120,000 hospital patients, a report reveals.
Scientists advising the government say officials must act now to prevent another explosion of cases overwhelming the NHS.
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They warn the R rate may rise to 1.7 by September in the reasonable worst case scenario.
It means each infected person will be passing the bug on to an average of 1.7 others, with the pandemic growing again.
This would lead to a peak in hospital admissions and deaths in January and February, when the NHS is usually at its busiest.
Modelling suggests such a wave could result in 119,900 Covid-related hospital deaths in the UK from September to June.
The number does not include deaths in care homes or the wider community and assumes there are no useful drugs or vaccines.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show there have been 31,761 Covid-related hospital deaths in England and Wales.
The Academy of Medical Sciences produced the report at the request of Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor.
The group of 37 academics admit there is a lot of uncertainty about how the pandemic will evolve in the coming months.
But they warn there is a “serious risk” to the nation’s health if action is not taken now to prepare for a “winter wave”.
Study leader Prof Stephen 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.”
The AMS has called for “intense preparation” over the next two months.
It wants a high uptake of flu jabs, a bigger NHS Test and Trace scheme and improved monitoring to spot local outbreaks.
It says there is a need for more adverts that remind people to wash their hands, wear face coverings and ventilate their homes.
And its report says the NHS and care homes must continue to have Covid-free zones, enough PPE and better infection control.
The colder weather and fallout from the first wave means the NHS may not be as well placed to cope with a second onslaught.
The virus is thought to survive longer in the cold and spreads more easily indoors, where people spend more time over winter.
Doctors are worried about the possibility of a flu epidemic and the usual winter surge in admissions for lung and heart problems.
The service is already under pressure after cancelling operations and redeploying staff from usual duties to help with Covid patients.
Prof Dame Anne Johnson, who was on the panel, said: “Every winter we see an increase in the number of people admitted to hospital and in the number of people dying in the UK.
“This is due to a combination of seasonal infections such as flu, and the effects of colder weather, for example, on heart and lung conditions.
“This winter we have to factor in the likelihood of another wave of coronavirus infections and the ongoing impacts of the first wave.
“We have to be prepared that we might also experience a flu epidemic this year.
“Faced with these potential challenges, and after an already tough year, it would be easy to feel hopeless and powerless.
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“But this report shows that we can act now to change things for the better.”
The team also modelled less serious scenarios, with 1,300 hospital deaths expected if R hits 1.1 and 74,800 if R is 1.5.
The R rate may increase as a result of children going back to school, adults returning to work and people socialising again.
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