Covid deaths could return to a peak of 500 a day in England this year, SAGE papers have claimed – even AFTER Boris Johnson ’s four-week lockdown delay.
Modelling suggests that in a “medium” scenario, going ahead with June 21 lockdown easing could have led to 35,600 to 67,200 new Covid deaths by December 31 this year.
But even with a five-week delay to step four of the roadmap, there could still be between 31,200 and 62,900 new Covid deaths by December 31, the modelling said.
That translates into a peak of 500 deaths per day (range of 300-800), compared to 700 (500-1,200) if there had been no delay.
Boris Johnson last night delayed step four of his lockdown roadmap by four weeks, saying it would avert “thousands of deaths”.
The model was produced for SAGE by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – which openly admitted its sums are “currently overestimating COVID-19 deaths.”
Just three deaths within 28 days of a positive test were recorded yesterday across the UK.
Yet the LSHTM’s Prof Graham Medley, a member of SAGE, today insisted deaths “still might” hit hundreds per day “at some point” in a third wave.
“Although the numbers of deaths are low at the moment, everyone expects that they will rise. The question is really as to what level they will rise,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“And at the moment there is a lot of uncertainty in what’s going to happen over the next couple of months.”
The “medium” scenario was based on an assumption that the Delta variant is 50% more transmissible than the Kent variant, has a ‘central’ level of resistance to vaccines, and people’s mobility in society is ‘medium’.
Public Health England data has since suggested vaccines are more than 90% effective against people going to hospital with the Delta variant, after both doses.
But even in a more optimistic scenario – with ‘optimistic’ immune escape and low mobility – there could be hundreds of deaths per day at the peak, the model claims.
It says in this situation there could be 400 deaths a day at the peak after a five-week delay to Step 4 (a range of 200 to 700), compared to 500 a day (300-900) with no delay.
Overall new Covid deaths by December 31 are modelled at 33,200 (23,700-48,900) in this optimistic scenario after a four-week delay, compared to 38,400 (27,200-52,200) with no delay in the optimistic scenario.
Separate modelling by Imperial College London said: “Across all transmissibility and immune escape scenarios explored, we estimate that B.1.617.2 could lead to a significant third wave of hospitalisations and deaths similar to or larger than the winter wave.”
It added: “Delaying step 4 releases beyond 21 June should delay the projected third wave and reduce the estimated number of hospitalisation and deaths.”
SAGE sub-group SPI-M-O said: “In all scenarios modelled, even a short delay to the timing to Step 4 results in a significant drop in the number of people being admitted to hospital as more people are vaccinated and as the school summer holidays get closer.
“Even a two-week delay would have a significant effect, but a four-week delay is modelled as reducing the peak in hospital admissions by around a third to a half.
“A delay would also allow evidence to build up on the effectiveness of vaccines against delta, potentially increasing precision in future modelling scenarios.”
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove today refused to deny there could be hundreds of deaths a day once again.
He said: “I’m not an epidemiologist, so I can’t predict with confidence what the likely level of the circulation of the virus will be and what the public health impact will be.
“But what I do know is that the best way of minimising the number of people who go into hospital, and who face terrible consequences as a result, the best way of reducing that number is by increasing vaccination.”
Boris Johnson last night said Brits would one day “learn to live with” Covid.
He told a No10 press conference: “Now is the time to ease off the accelerator because by being cautious now we have the chance – in the next four weeks – to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.”
But hospitality firms have erupted in anger after the PM confirmed the furlough scheme will start winding down as planned on July 1.
Employers will have to contribute 10% then 20% of wages in August before the scheme ends altogether on September 30.
The PM also faces a furious backlash from Tory MPs who will vote on the lockdown extension on Wednesday.
Prof Medley today said the Delta variant “would have ended up in the UK at some point” even if the borders had been closed sooner.
But Labour slammed the government for taking 22 days to put India on the red list after a variant from the country was first identified in the UK.
The B.1.617.1 variant – similar to B.1.617.2 which is now the ‘Delta’ strain – was deemed under investigation on April 1 but India was only put on the red list on April 23.
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said today: “They have allowed the Delta variant, first identified in India to take hold here.
“Let’s call it what it is. Let’s put the blame where it should lie in this country – it’s the Johnson Variant.
“The Prime Minister’s negligence and incompetence, his refusal to take tough decisions have left Britain facing weeks more of restrictions – and yet more uncertainty.”
Michael Gove today insisted it was “total rubbish” that Boris Johnson delayed putting India on the red list because he wanted to get a trade deal and meet the Indian PM on TV cameras.
“The Prime Minister would never put the health of the country at risk in that way”, he claimed.
But he admitted: “With perfect hindsight there are many many things that we’ve done in the past that I wouldn’t have done at the time.”
Mr Gove also promised July 19 would be the final date of lockdown restrictions – before the reneging on that promise seconds later.
Asked by ITV’s Good Morning Britain “can you give us a promise that July 19 will be the end of it?”, he replied: “Yes”.
But he then immediately added: “None of us can predict the future with 100% certainty.
“There could be something bizarre and unprecedented that occurs.
“But on the basis of all the information we have, then we will have successfully protected such large sections of the population…. so we’re as confident as confident can be about that date.”