The Daily Telegraph
We don’t know if next wave will be bigger or smaller, say modellers
Government experts admit the scale of resurgence is ‘uncertain’ but all scenarios show summer rise in cases
GOVERNMENT modellers have admitted they do not know whether releasing restrictions on June 21 would lead to unsustainable pressure on the NHS, as experts said the situation “might be a lot better” than previous waves.
As Boris Johnson announced a delay to the full lifting of restrictions on June 21, scientists admitted there was still “huge uncertainty” about whether Britain would experience a devastating third wave.
They warned that models had struggled to “reconcile” the rapid growth in Indian variant cases with “largely flat admissions” in hospitals and said delaying reopening would help them to “resolve these data-interpretation issues”.
Government scientific experts also said Britain may now be just “one smallish wave” away from the end of the pandemic.
Models released from Warwick University, Imperial College and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) yesterday show vast differences in the path the pandemic might take over the coming months.
Under the most pessimistic scenarios, Imperial modellers warned that Britain could experience a further 203,824 deaths by next June – around 50,000 more deaths than the first and second waves combined.
All models show a significant wave of infections in the summer with Warwick suggesting a maximum of 5,990 hospital admissions per day by July 22, which would be higher than the 4,000 peak of the January wave.
Warwick also warned deaths could peak at 1,780 per day – again higher than the first and second waves – leading to a third wave total of 72,400 by next June.
All the models suggest that a delay of several weeks would bring the deaths down by around 5,000 but will not stop the majority of third-wave deaths.
Under a central scenario, the LSHTM estimates that there would be 38,400 deaths by Oct 31 without any pause, but that would fall to 33,200 – a drop of 5,200 – with a five-week delay. Likewise, Imperial estimates that a delay would see its third-wave death estimates fall from 47,941 to 42,060 – a decrease of 5,881 – while Warwick estimates that hundreds of daily admissions could be cut with a delay of several weeks.
Overall, models suggest that a fourweek delay reduces the peak in hospital admissions by around a third to a half.
However, in a summary document the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) admitted the scale of a resurgence was “highly uncertain” and said it might be “considerably smaller or larger than previous waves”.
It concludes: “SPI-M cannot determine with confidence whether taking Step four of the roadmap on June 21 would result in a peak that might put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
“The epidemic is at a particularly uncertain point in time and models have struggled to reconcile the rapid growth in delta [Indian] cases with what appear to be currently flat hospitalisations.
“While there is a significant resurgence in admissions in all scenarios, the scale of that resurgence is highly uncertain and ranges from considerably smaller than January 2021 to considerably higher.”
SPI-M has advised that delaying Step four would “enable more time to resolve these data-interpretation issues, accrue more information on the delta variant’s transmission and hospitalisation rates”.
Latest data shows there has been a 45 per cent increase in infections in the past week, a 15 per cent rise in hospital admissions and 11.9 per cent in deaths, although all are still low.
A scientific source close to the government said: “We are in a so much better place now. The numbers are all much smaller. Things might be a lot better than either of the waves of the last 12 months or they could be worse.
“The benefit of the vaccine is that the proportion ending up in hospital is much smaller. Really this is telling us we need to get more vaccines into as many individuals as possible.
“The over-60 case rate is not climbing and even if they are infected, there is a reduction in hospitalisation. We may be one smallish wave away from the beginning of the end.
“If we’re lucky nothing will happen. There is massive uncertainty here, but things could have been so much worse without the vaccination campaign.”