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Government coronavirus reports reveal the UK’s outbreak will likely rumble on into 2021

Scientific reports presented to the Government have revealed that the UK’s Covid-19 will likely trundle on well into 2021 and social distancing must continue.

They also showed that scientists told officials banning people from going to large sporting events has an ‘imperceptible’ effect on the number of cases.

And the next step for social ‘bubbling’, currently allowed between a household of one-person and another home, could be to allow two houses of any size to join.

Some 40 documents were today published by the Government Office for Science, which is headed by Sir Patrick Vallance, England’s chief scientific adviser.

They are among dozens in a tranche of papers presented to SAGE, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, over recent months.

And the reports detail all the scientific advice which is being presented to decision-making officials who dictate when and how the country moves out of lockdown.

Files released today revealed scientists told the Government: 

  • Schools should be closed for eight to 12 weeks for maximum effect and could flatten the peak of the crisis by 40 per cent, but only if timed right; 
  • Banning people from going to large sporting events has an ‘imperceptible impact’ on the transmission of the coronavirus;
  • The epidemic is likely to continue for a year or more because the UK’s society and economy could not cope with a lockdown tough enough to stop it dead;
  • The Government’s original ‘mitigate’ plan was based on developing herd immunity – which Downing Street insists it wasn’t – and it wouldn’t have worked;
  • World Health Organization warned social distancing ‘interventions’ must remain in place until at least 2021 to stop a resurgence of the virus; 
  • Social bubbles could soon be extended to include two households of any size, and then two any-size families with a single household as a third member. 

A model presented to the Government in March showed that social distancing and lockdown measures may have to stay in place for more than a year (shown on bottom axis, more than 300 days) to stop Britain’s outbreak from spiralling out of control

Today’s batch of SAGE papers, which are now released in a bid for greater transparency from the Government, come as 202 more deaths have been confirmed.

There have now been a total of 41,481 people who died after testing positive for the coronavirus in the UK, but many more who weren’t tested or haven’t yet been counted.

Here, MailOnline takes a look at some of the stand-out papers from today:

Lockdown can delay peak of the outbreak but not stop it forever 

A strict, all-encompassing lockdown like the one the UK is now beginning to emerge from is an effective way to slow down a virus but cannot stop it forever, scientists said.

In an undated paper, experts from the World Health Organization and Imperial College London told SAGE the lockdown would work but it wouldn’t get rid of the virus.

They said that combining measures such as closing schools, gyms and enforcing social distancing would reduce transmission of Covid-19.

But the virus would inevitably resurge when the restrictions were lifted, they warned. 

The report said: ‘The primary impact of such measures is to delay transmission and reduce peak incidence; when they are lifted, transmission can be expected to resume given the measures only protect the population while in operation (unlike vaccination).’

ENGLAND’S CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK SHRINKS BY 100,000 IN A FORTNIGHT, TESTING SHOWS

Only 33,000 people in England currently have the coronavirus, according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics.

The data, based on testing of almost 20,000 people in the community, shows the number of people with the virus outside of hospitals and care homes is tumbling.

When hospital and care home cases, of which more than a thousand are still being diagnosed every day, are included the total is higher, but the virus is fading among members of the public.

When the same estimates were published on May 28, just a fortnight ago, they suggested 133,000 people were carrying the virus, many without knowing it.

But England’s outbreak is continuing on a ‘clear downward trend’, statisticians say, with around 31,600 new infections each week – around 4,500 per day.  

The ONS data says just 0.06 per cent of the population is infected, showing the infection rate is now around one positive case in every 1,790 people in the community.

And this week’s report, which relates to the period between May 25 and June 7, is recent enough to include the effects of the first easing of lockdown measures, when the rules on spending time outside were relaxed on May 13. This does not, according to the ONS data, appear to have led to a rise in cases.

Statisticians wrote in their report this morning that a complex investigation of the data ‘confirms there is a clear downward trend’ but warned about interpreting raw figures.

The range of possible current cases is somewhere between 14,000 and 68,000, the statisticians said, while somewhere between 22,700 and 43,5000 new cases were appearing each week. 

It added: ‘Measures which are too effective merely push all transmission to the period after they are lifted, giving a delay but no substantial reduction’.

For genuine protection from the virus in future, herd immunity must be developed through vaccination, they said. 

Herd immunity can also develop if most of the population is allowed to catch the virus, but this would result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.  

School closures need to be ‘carefully timed and started early’

An undated paper given to SAGE warned that school closures must start early if they’re going to be done, when the country has around five per cent of its peak number of coronavirus infections.

In the UK, schools were closed from March 20, by which time the virus was rampant across the country. 

This may even have coincided with the peak of the outbreak, given that the highest number of hospital deaths came on April 8 – around three weeks later – and it takes between two and three weeks for fatally ill patients to die after catching Covid-19.

The paper, produced by the same WHO and Imperial experts as the above, said: ‘School closure needs to be carefully timed and started early, when incidence is <5% of its peak value for maximum impact.

‘Eight to 12 weeks of closure are required for maximum reduction of peak incidence.’

The researchers suggested that closing schools could reduce the peak of infections by as much as 40 per cent. 

It has today been 12 weeks since schools were closed across the whole UK, with some now returning for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils.

Banning large sporting events has ‘imperceptible’ effect on virus

A paper from March 11, before the Government banned large sporting events, said the effect of doing so would be ‘imperceptible’ on the spread of the virus.

Scientists at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said that the effect of stopping people going to football matches, for example, would be small on virus spread. 

In fact, they explained, things that people do far more often and with more people in close contact – like going to the pub or to the gym – were likely riskier.

They said: ‘Banning sporting events has a negligible impact on the epidemic. Reducing all leisure contact, which mainly occurs in pubs/bars, restaurants and cinemas would have a much larger (although still modest) impact on the epidemic.

‘Many individuals are likely to choose to avoid such settings anyway, as they perceive them to be risky.’ 

Social distancing must stay for a year and outbreak will enter 2021 

Two separate papers warned that the UK’s coronavirus epidemic will continue into 2021 and that social distancing measures must remain for as long as it is around.

One, from the same London School of Hygiene team, said in March that aggressive social distancing measures implemented in the lockdown would be very effective at stopping the virus.

However, they take a huge toll on society and the economy. It was revealed today that Britain’s economy was battered in April, slumping a record-breaking 20 per cent. 

The Government has spent billions of pounds bailing out businesses and paying employees on furlough during the pandemic.

And ‘crisis fatigue’ means people can only be expected to follow lockdown rules for relatively short periods of time. 

The LSHTM team wrote: ‘The most successful strategies are very disruptive to daily lives and therefore the economy, and mean that the epidemic is likely to continue for some considerably time (perhaps a year or more).’

Another document from the WHO and Imperial College – a 10-page presentation – said in its final sentence: ‘These measures will need to be in force (perhaps intermittently) into 2021 to avoid a resurgence of transmission.’ 

Social bubbles could progress to include two households of any size

The Government this week announced that people who live alone will now be allowed to form a ‘social bubble’ with one other household for the first time.

This is intended to help elderly people, divided couples and parents who don’t live with their children, for example, to overcome the isolation they have been forced into for months.

And the next step could be to allow two households of any size to mix, and then two households with one single-person household.

Although the bubbles increase the risk of infection for people in them, because there are no limits to physical or close contact, they are a vital step towards normality for many.

The SPI-B group – the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours – said suggested that the current situation be phase one of a ‘bubbling’ strategy.

Phase two, it said, could involve ‘two households joining together regardless of numbers’.

But this would only be suitable ‘if no epidemiological adverse effects’ were observed – that is, phase one didn’t lead to a rise in infections.

Phase three could then be to allowed bubbles that had formed in phase one to add another, third, household regardless of size. Or for a two-home bubble formed in phase two to add a single-occupant household.

HOSPITALS DISCHARGED 25,000 PEOPLE TO CARE HOMES WITHOUT TESTS DURING PEAK OF COVID-19

NHS hospitals discharged 25,000 people into care homes during the peak of Britain’s Covid-19 crisis without testing them for the coronavirus, a report has revealed.

Critics say the move, ordered to free up beds for an anticipated surge in seriously ill virus patients, was ‘extraordinary’ and shows care homes were an ‘afterthought’. 

The National Audit Office (NAO) report – the first independent review of preparations for the pandemic – said care homes were overlooked in order to protect the NHS. 

It counted the 25,000 patients discharged between March 17 and April 15. The peak of coronavirus deaths in hospitals in England was on April 8.

More than 13,000 people have now died of Covid-19 in care homes in England and Wales, and they represent a growing proportion of all coronavirus fatalities. 

Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, claimed it highlighted that care homes were shoved ‘to the back of the queue’ during the pandemic.

The NAO’s report also revealed that plans to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) were hampered because officials ignored warnings in 2019 to stockpile gowns and visors – and didn’t have enough of them when the need arose.

This resulted in less than half of the necessary equipment being available to healthcare workers on the frontlines of the crisis. 

At least 300 healthcare staff have died from coronavirus so far and bereaved families and health unions say a lack of PPE is partly to blame. 

SPI-B said: ‘The advantage of this gradual phasing is also that it could be stepped back to zero or partially stepped back if rates of Covid-19 increase in a region and/or country-wide in a second wave. 

‘We advise caution at present even in introducing even phase 1. 

‘We need further modelling and policy development for the specific situation of key workers, socio-economically disadvantaged groups and BAME communities. 

‘Alongside this we would need to develop a careful communications and public health hygiene campaign to specifically support any of these changes to social distancing.’

Government’s original plan WAS based around herd immunity – and it wouldn’t have worked 

Scientists in one report remarked in March that the Government appeared to be pursuing a plan that hinged on herd immunity, whether deliberately or not.

The idea of herd immunity appeared before lockdown was announced as top scientists and politicians floated the idea of a ‘mitigation’ strategy that would try to slow down the virus while still allowing it to spread through the population.

That way, they said, people would develop immunity to the virus and it could prevent future outbreaks. 

But the Government slammed on the brakes after being told the strategy could kill more than half a million people, and Downing Street has denied ever since that it was the plan.

In a SAGE paper dated March 16, from a researcher at Imperial College, Professor Steven Riley said: ‘The primary benefit of mitigation is that the epidemic will be over more quickly than might otherwise be the case, with the population having acquired herd immunity and also having experienced a relatively low peak.’

But, he added: ‘We show that critical care facilities in the UK would be saturated quickly… The country would then have to either struggle on to the availability of a vaccine without a functioning health system or attempt the most stringent possible interventions to lower incidence back to containment levels. 

‘Over the same period of time, either of these scenarios would likely have far greater economic costs than would result from an immediate switch now to ongoing containment [lockdown]…

‘Even if ongoing containment were to fail, we would have gained time and knowledge with which to decide our next strategy.’  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



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