Covid cases could hit 200,000 a day in the UK this year and cause “major disruption” to the NHS, according to the scientist whose initial modelling helped shape Britain’s coronavirus lockdown strategy.
Prof Neil Ferguson said it was “almost inevitable” that Monday’s final phase of unlocking would bring on 100,000 daily cases, with about 1,000 hospitalisations – despite roughly half the UK being fully vaccinated. He added that he could foresee a situation in which the case rate expands to twice the size.
“The real question is do we get to double that – or even higher,” he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday,. “And that’s where the crystal ball starts to fail. I mean, we could get to 2,000 hospitalisations a day, 200,000 cases a day – but it’s much less certain.”
Daily hospitalisations surpassing 2,000 a day is equivalent to the level in the week leading up to Christmas. Although people currently being hospitalised do not fall as severely ill, and are much less likely to die, Ferguson said that “if you have enough cases, you can still have quite significant burden on the healthcare system … major disruption of services and cancellation of elective surgery and the backlog in the NHS getting longer and longer.”
Coronavirus infections in the UK are surging again and hospitalisations are on the rise, driven by the spread of the Delta variant and the partial lifting of restrictions. Nearly all restrictions are set to be discarded in England on Monday, including mask-wearing and social distancing mandates. Whether this unlocking is permanent or temporary will depend on precautions taken by the public and vaccination rates, scientists have warned, adding there would probably be a surge in cases no matter when the remaining restrictions are lifted.