The threat of a second coronavirus peak is ‘very real’, MPs have been warned today.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific advisor, told the Parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee today: “I can tell you that a second peak is something that is very real, that you need to watch out for, and you can see it in other countries.”
More than 29,000 lives have been lost to Covid-19 in the UK to date with that figure expected to continue to rise over the coming days and weeks.
There are fears that a rapid easing of lockdown measures could lead to the virus spiking once again and a risk the NHS could be overwhelmed leading to tens of thousands more deaths.
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A patient is cared for at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, Falkirk
(Image: Falkirk Herald / SWNS.COM)
Sir Patrick was asked whether there is a risk of a second wave hitting the UK when people return from other countries, especially those that have not had their peak yet.
He said a calculation had been done around three weeks ago on the likely impact of imported cases in terms of the total number of cases of the virus in the UK.
He said: “At that point, when you took all of the travel and you took all of the numbers coming in, it would have been something under 0.5% of all the cases would have come in through imports.
“Now clearly that equation reverses when you get down to very low numbers in your own country and you have higher numbers elsewhere, and that’s when you need to be vigilant on how you think about isolation and testing of cases coming in.
“But, again, this is a pandemic, it means it’s everywhere, and therefore cases can come from anywhere in the world.”
Asked about the likelihood of a second wave, Sir Patrick said: “I think if we do test, track and tracing well, and we keep the social distancing measures at the right level, we should be able to avoid a second wave.”
However, he said he wanted to add one caveat “which is winter is going to be extremely difficult when you also have flu circulating, and you have all the other respiratory infection”.
Sir Patrick today said the R number – the number of people infected by each Covid-19 carrier – is 0.6 to 0.9 but lower in London.
That is down from “something close to 3” in the early stages of the pandemic and means the virus is not spreading exponentially.
Yet he warned we are still “quite early” in the epidemic and “it doesn’t mean the whole thing’s gone away.”
Sir Patrick said “the vast majority of people” who’ve had coronavirus get “some form of antibody response” – but this does not mean they’re immune.
The wearing of face masks in public has become a subject for debate in the UK
He said: “An antibody response is likely in most people to provide some form of immune protection.
“But how much we don’t know. Experience from other coronaviruses suggests it may last for one, two, three years but not many many years.”
Sir Patrick warned no measures easing the lockdown will be completely safe.
He told MPs: “Nothing is going to be risk-free. Everything as we go back to less social distancing will carry a risk of there being an outbreak somewhere or a few more cases or in worst case scenario, R goes above 1. We need a very effective surveillance system to pick that up.”
Hospitals have struggled to get their hands on sufficient PPE for staff
(Image: Falkirk Herald / SWNS.COM)
He was asked if he knew back in March what is known now, whether events such as Cheltenham and the Champions League match would have been allowed to go ahead.
He said: “In terms of what would I do in retrospect, if we knew then what we know now, I think that’s something for the future to look at.
“And certainly there will be times when evidence didn’t allow decisions to be made that you could make now, and there’ll be times at which you look back and say that something might have been done differently, I’ve got no doubt about that.”
He added: “I think this is a new virus, we don’t know about it, it’s something nobody has seen before and therefore inevitably we’re learning as we go along.”