May 21, 2022

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Lockdown-style measures needed ‘to avoid hospital peak worse than last year’

Lockdown-style measures needed ‘to avoid hospital peak worse than last year’
‘Similar’ restrictions to a full national lockdown are now needed to keep coronavirus hospitalisations below previous peaks, experts have warned. Grim new forecasts from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) paint a bleak picture of the pressure that the NHS faces amid a surge in Omicron cases. Documents released by the group on Saturday…

‘Similar’ restrictions to a full national lockdown are now needed to keep coronavirus hospitalisations below previous peaks, experts have warned.

Grim new forecasts from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) paint a bleak picture of the pressure that the NHS faces amid a surge in Omicron cases.

Documents released by the group on Saturday highlight the advice given to the Government throughout December as fears about the new variant rose.

A sub group of Sage – the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) – said in documents dated December 8 that in almost all modelling ‘a significant reduction in transmission (similar in scale to the national lockdown implemented in January 2021 and the pingdemic in July 2021) is required to keep hospitalisations below the height of previous peaks’.

Advice said that indoor mixing is the ‘biggest risk factor’ for the spread of the variant of coronavirus, and that large gatherings risked creating ‘multiple spreading events’.

Yet ministers had been insisting that no new restrictions would be needed before Christmas and only on Sunday did the Health Secretary acknowledge that might be necessary.

Experts have repeatedly stressed throughout the pandemic that delaying restrictions tends to only result in harsher ones being needed for longer at a later date.

The advice from 10 days ago adds: ‘Earlier intervention also reduces the wave of hospitalisations.’

Minutes from a Sage meeting on Thursday said stricter measures could be needed including ‘reducing group sizes, increasing physical distancing, reducing duration of contacts and closing high-risk premises’.

The experts warned that even if transmission rates were reduced, hospital admission levels were likely to be between 1,000 and 2,000 per day in England by the end of the year.

And modelling showed that if ministers stuck to the current Plan B measures, there could be a peak of 3,000 per day.

The estimate of deaths under Plan B is incredibly wide – ranging from 600 to 6,000 per day.

The documents said: ‘Some scenarios have significantly worse outcomes during the first few months of 2022 but there are many uncertainties.’


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So far, 37,101 Omicron cases have been confirmed – but the true figure is undoubtedly multiples higher, given that 350,000 Covid-19 cases reported in the last four days alone are almost certainly being fuelled by the new strain.

The Government had been insisting that a ramped up booster programme could mitigate the impact of Omicron, but Sage pointed out that many hospital admissions and deaths are already ‘baked in’ from those already infected.

They warned that delaying introducing stricter measures until 2022 would ‘greatly reduce the effectiveness of such interventions and make it is less likely that these would prevent considerable pressure on health and care settings’.

It comes after reports that officials had drawn up plans for a two-week circuit breaker lockdown after Christmas.

The Liberal Democrats have called for Parliament to be recalled on Monday to debate the next steps.

Party leader Sir Ed Davey said: ‘Throughout the pandemic, Boris Johnson has consistently reacted too late, missed opportunities and refused to act when the scientists told him to.

‘We cannot allow the Prime Minister to sit on his hands while the NHS and businesses are on the brink of collapse.’

Earlier, Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews and member of Sage, said it was clear that Plan B measures alone would not be enough to stop the spiralling numbers of cases.

Professor Reicher, who was speaking to Times Radio in a personal capacity, said the time to act was now.

He said: ‘In many ways, the most effective way of diminishing contact is to have a circuit-breaker.

‘Now, you could have it after Christmas, the problem is after Christmas it’s probably too late, it’s probably by then we will have had a huge surge of infections with all the impact upon society.

‘When people say “look, we don’t want to close down”, of course, we don’t want to close down.

‘But the problem is at the moment, things are closing down anyway, because of the spread of infection.

‘So I think we need to act now.’

On Monday morning, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab declined to rule out bringing in further Covid restrictions between now and Christmas Day.

That came after Health Secretary Sajid Javid made similar comments on Sunday.

But he added that it is ‘time to be more cautious’.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

For more stories like this, check our news page.


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