U.K. Could Hit 50,000 COVID-19 Cases-a-Day by Mid-October, Scientists Warn

Cases of COVID-19 are rising quickly in the U.K. and risk quickly spiraling out of control if measures are not taken, Britain's top medical advisers have warned.

England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and the government's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance held a press conference Monday ahead of announcements about further COVID-19 lockdown measures expected later this week.

An example scenario, which was not given as a prediction, said that nearly 50,000 cases a day could be recorded by the middle of October, with cases in the U.K. rising quickly.

"If that continues unabated and this grows, doubles every seven days... by mid-October, if that continued you would end up with something like 50,000 cases a day," Vallance said. "This would be expected to lead to 200-plus deaths a day."

There are currently between 3,000 and 4,000 cases in the U.K. every day but this, as repeated by the advisers, is doubling every seven days. It is seen by the government as a difficult balancing act as doing nothing is not really possible, it believes, but it cannot announce another full national lockdown.

One idea that has been leaked from a number of sources is a "circuit break" style lockdown, a short tight lockdown for two weeks to entirely stop the spread of the virus before returning to a more "normal" level of restrictions while maintaining social distancing.

Some medical experts have called for "rethink" and "to find a better balance" saying that another lockdown would not work.

In an open letter, they wrote: "More targeted measures that protect the most vulnerable from COVID, whilst not adversely impacting those not at risk, are more supportable. Given the high proportion of COVID deaths in care homes, these should be a priority.

A group of us across medicine, academia and other areas have come together and sent this letter to the PM and his team.

Professors Heneghan, Gupta and many others - a wide range of voices as this crisis affects everything.

We desperately need a rethink to find a better balance. pic.twitter.com/0jHqta3KYE

— Professor Karol Sikora (@ProfKarolSikora) September 21, 2020

Using data from both Spain and France, Sir Patrick told the press conference that "we expect to see an increase in hospitalizations and, unfortunately... an increase in deaths" in the U.K. if the data follows a similar pattern.

Germany and South Korea have both worked hard to prepare their testing and tracing systems for a second wave, with cases rising again in both countries but so far infection rates under control. Spain and Australia have both seen regional spikes and imposed targeted lockdowns.

Britain's test and tracing system, which was heralded as "world-leading" by senior U.K. government officials, has so far yet to show any widespread success and is facing increased criticism.

When it came to an increase in case numbers, President Donald Trump said in the U.S. that this had been down to increases in testing and that the U.S. was testing the highest number of people in the world. In the U.K., medical advisers have a different view.

"Could this be due to an increase in testing? The answer to that is no," Vallance said.

The medical advisers were keen to point out that, with the winter coming, it will be a long time before life returns to the same level of normal as was experienced in recent weeks.

"The next six months, collectively, we have to take this very seriously," Whitty said.

While there was a discussion about vaccines being in advanced stages of testing, it was seen as unlikely to be available before Christmas.

Chris Whitty
England's medical advisers have been clear about their warnings for winter UK government

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