UK more vulnerable to winter Covid surge than European neighbours, say experts

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The UK is more vulnerable to a Covid winter surge than its European neighbours, with one of the country’s leading epidemiologists warning that “we don’t have much headroom” for a surge in cases in the coming months.

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Professor Neil Ferguson, member of Imperial College London’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said that Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Portugal have much lower levels of Covid-19 than the UK and so “there is some cost to watch”. can” increase transmission without “unnecessarily stressing” their health systems.

In contrast, the spread of infection in the UK is high and “very close to the limit of what the NHS can face”, he told MPs during an all-party group session on the coronavirus.


Dr Jonathan Siles, a research fellow at the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, told politicians during Tuesday’s meeting that “this is not a good way to start a winter”, adding that Britain was a “canary in a coal mine”. rest of Europe.

Despite initial success in introducing COVID vaccines, the rate of coverage in the UK has been slower than in the continent.

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According to Our World in Data, the UK has fully vaccinated 65.9 per cent of its adult population. The figures for France, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal are 66.1 per cent, 68.3 per cent, 74.1 per cent, 78.6 per cent and 85.2 per cent, respectively.

Along with a handful of Baltic states, the UK also has the highest infection rate in Europe, recording an average of 32,000 new Covid cases every day.

Martin Mackie, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told MPs the UK is “not bad enough” for daily deaths compared to other European countries, “but we are still in the bottom third.”

Professor Ferguson said the political decision to “live with Covid” lags behind the UK’s current levels of transmission, adding that the government’s Plan B to tackle Covid could be triggered if hospital admissions doubled to 1,200. reaches. This will see the return of mandatory face masks, the introduction of COVID passports in some settings and new guidance on work from home.

“We’re starting with a lot more events and so we don’t have a lot of room to grow,” Professor Ferguson said. “We’ll come to Plan B, I think that’s what Whitehall and policymakers use, is it limited headroom.”

He noted that the modeling had a high degree of unpredictability, but added: “If we take out the booster early on, we can see a continuous flattening phenomenon, even with a slow decline.

“So it’s not a guarantee that we’ll see a big winter surge by any means, but at the present time, we can’t really expect a lot of winter growth before the NHS has put a lot of emphasis on it.”

Asked if the UK wants to keep case rates down, Prof Ferguson said: “The government has clearly said, it’s not really science here, it’s a political decision, they want to live with COVID .

“Their main criterion for acting is the added pressure on the NHS.”

While the UK opted to lift all COVID restrictions during the summer, other countries in Europe continue to mandate indoor masks to wear or enforce a COVID passport for access to restaurants and bars. As a result, the UK is “a few months ahead of some European countries”, Dr Siles said. “We are the canaries in the coal mine.”

“Why are we here? I think it all has to do with the fact that we lifted all restrictions on about 50 percent of the vaccinated population, and really no one else in Europe is doing that.”

Prof Ferguson said the key determinant of what is going to happen over the next few months, noting that most countries have relaxed social distancing the most, is “the level of immunity of the population relative to the level of contact rates in the population.” is closed”.

He said Britain was now behind Spain, Portugal and “probably even France and the Netherlands” in terms of population immunity.


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