Europe

Covid winter crisis: Expert warns cases could TRIPLE due to Delta variant ‘Far from over’

Chris Whitty responds to Nicki Minaj’s COVID-19 vaccine claims

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Boris Johnson this week said the coronavirus situation is in some respects “more challenging” than it was last year with the next few weeks representing a “pivotal point” in the pandemic. The Prime Minister set out his Plan A, B and C for the colder months, but refused to rule out a return to a full lockdown again if cases shot up.

The new plan came as England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned the first winter with the Delta Covid variant could trigger a massive virus surge, and is likely to be significant enough to require fresh restrictions.

Speaking during the Downing Street press conference on September 14, Professor Whitty said: “We have not faced a winter with the Delta variant.

“So it is possible that the combination of winter events plus the Delta variant, which is highly transmissible, could lead to a situation where, on the basis of the data, ministers decide that they wanted to trigger all or some of the Plan B.”

Sage expert Professor Andrew Hayward today warned tens of thousands of deaths from COVID-19 are still possible in Britain.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “We’ve moved away from a situation where there’s a potential for hundreds of thousands of deaths to a situation where we may still see tens of thousands of deaths.”

Professor Hayward also said working from home would make a “significant difference to transmission if we get in trouble”.

He added: “We are in this for the long-term, so Covid isn’t going to just go away, no matter how much we vaccinate Covid will continue to transmit every winter so we need to come to a point where society can function and live with the virus and that does mean we have to live with hospitalisations that relate to it.”

The Government’s Plan B would come into effect if Plan A is not sufficient in preventing “unsustainable pressure” on the NHS and would be “a last resort”.

But how bad could the situation really get? Express.co.uk spoke to Professor Martin Michaelis, the virologist and professor of molecular medicine at the University of Kent, about why the Government’s scientific and medical experts are so concerned about a winter with the Delta variant.

Professor Michaelis said: “A UK winter with the Delta variant is indeed very difficult to predict, because there are so many things that we do not know.

“We would expect to see a rise in infections with the opening of schools.

“Moreover, COVID-19 spreads particularly well in crowded indoor spaces without much ventilation.

“Hence, the change in weather in autumn and winter, which will be associated with more indoor activities, is anticipated to drive up infection numbers.”

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However, the virologist said the extent to which the increased virus spread will translate into symptomatic COVID-19 cases, as well as coronavirus-associated hospitalisations and deaths, is hard to determine.

The true impact of a winter period with the Delta variant will be contingent upon several factors including how many people are vulnerable to Covid and particularly the Delta variant.

Children are known to be less susceptible to the severe health impact of the virus compared to older age groups.

One key concern about the Delta variant is that it seems to be “better at countering the innate immune response than previous COVID-19 variants.”

This means the Delta variant poses a greater threat to all age groups, including children.

The most severe COVID-19 cases in children are those infected with the Delta variant and this is likely to continue to be a pattern according to Professor Michaelis.

He added: “The Delta variant spreads much more effectively than previous variants.

“Hence, many more people need to be immune to control its spread. Moreover, it may be more dangerous to children and young people.”

Professor Michaelis said it is difficult to estimate numbers of new daily infections, hospitalisations and deaths for the upcoming winter – however, most experts have guideline ideas in their minds.

He added most experts believe Britain would face 100,000, or even up to 200,000 new COVID-19 cases per day soon after the lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions. However, this has not been the case.

A peak of cases was observed during the European Football Championship tournament which was explained by the increase in social mixing at that time.

The expert told Express.co.uk: “COVID-19 numbers are still high in the UK at about 30,000 cases per day.

“Although we see less hospitalisations and deaths, the numbers are still considerable with about 1,000 hospitalisations and 100 deaths each day.

“If this was a new disease and we were not so used to these numbers by now, we would probably consider them to be high. Hence, COVID-19 is far from over.”

The virologist said his best estimate, based on coronavirus data from Israel, would see Covid cases double or triple over the coming months.

He added the country will see a “much wider peak before cases start to come down again.”

This same mentality would apply to the number of hospitalisations and deaths, but Professor Michaelis said he does not believe the numbers will be significant enough to enforce another full lockdown.

Instead, he expects the reintroduction of some restrictions such as working from home, wearing face masks indoors, limits on the size of events, and limiting access to events and certain venues to vaccinated individuals and those with a negative COVID-19 test will be rolled out.

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