The Independent

Sage warns of ‘rapid’ rise in hospital admissions as more workers return to the office

- SAMUEL LOVETT SCIENCE CORRESPOND­ENT

It is “highly likely” that a decrease in the number of people working from home in the next couple of months would lead to a “rapid” rise in hospital admissions for Covid, scientific advisers to the government have warned. Millions of Britons have been heading back to the office this month, coinciding with the return of schools and universiti­es. Last week, London saw its busiest morning rush-hour since the pandemic hit, with hundreds of thousands of journeys made across the city, according to official data.

But modelling published yesterday by a sub-group of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencie­s (Sage) suggests there is the “potential” for another large wave of hospitalis­ations in the coming months. The sub-group on pandemic modelling said there was “a clear consensus that continued high levels of homeworkin­g have played a very important role in preventing sustained epidemic growth in recent months. It is highly likely that a significan­t decrease in homeworkin­g in the next few months would result in a rapid increase in hospital admissions.”

The group said there was “significan­t uncertaint­y” around the trajectory of the pandemic given “the scope for increased transmissi­on after the end of the school holidays” and the questions that remain over the duration of immunity acquired through either infection or injection. Although the UK’s vaccines have weakened the link between infection and severe disease, helping to reduce hospitalis­ations, any significan­t rise in cases will still “likely” lead to an increase in admissions, the government’s scientific advisers said.

Senior NHS officials have already warned that hospitalis­ations are rising at an “alarming” rate, leading to growing pressure on health services in the UK. Government data show that Covid bed occupancy is now at its highest level since 10 March, after daily admissions passed the 1,000 mark last week.

The modelling group said it “remains the case” that the earlier interventi­ons are brought in, the lower prevalence is kept, reducing the direct burden of Covid-19 and reducing the risk of needing more stringent measures. “If enacted early enough, a relatively light set of measures could be sufficient to curb

sustained growth,” the Sage modellers said. “During a period of sustained epidemic growth, however, the more stringent the measures introduced, the shorter the duration needed for the measures to be in place to reduce to a given prevalence.”

Announcing government plans to administer booster jabs to more than 30 million Britons, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said the UK was on course for a “bumpy” winter due to a combinatio­n of Covid-19, rising flu cases, and the spread of other respirator­y illness such as RSV (respirator­y syncytial virus). “We know that this pandemic is still active, we are not past the pandemic, we are in an active phase still,” he told a Downing Street briefing.

As part of its Covid “plan B” for autumn and winter, when infections are expected to rise, the government said it will reintroduc­e compulsory face coverings in certain settings and ask people to work from home if the NHS falls under “unsustaina­ble pressure”. However, the prime minister’s official spokespers­on said Boris Johnson had “stressed his desire to see us continue to bolster our vaccine programme as the first line of defence, supported by testing, public health advice, and a variant surveillan­ce system”.

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 ?? (AFP/Getty) ?? The group said homeworkin­g had p l ayed an important ro l e in reducing transmissi­on
(AFP/Getty) The group said homeworkin­g had p l ayed an important ro l e in reducing transmissi­on
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