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The UK could exceed 100,000 Covid-related deaths before the end of the month, government scientific advisers have said amid increasingly urgent calls for action.
According to government figures, a total of 75,024 people had died within 28 days of having a positive coronavirus test up to Sunday. But the number of deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate is significantly higher.
According to a Guardian analysis based on deaths recorded by statistical agencies up to 20 December and those reported by health agencies since, there have been 91,453 deaths in the UK with Covid-19 on the death certificate or within 28 days of a positive test.
Experts say that given the current trajectory, the UK could reach the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths before the end of the month.
“Covid-19 deaths [within 28 days of a test] are currently averaging around 500 per day, with no sign of decline. If they remain at this level, it would mean around 15,000 more to come in the next month,” said Dr Adam Kucharski, associate professor in infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M).
“Unfortunately, given recent rises in cases and hospitalisations – which typically precede deaths by two or three weeks – we could see considerably higher numbers of deaths by next month if transmission doesn’t come down soon.”
Prof Graham Medley, also from the LSHTM and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) agreed. “It is almost inevitable that we will reach 100,000 deaths and there is a chance that this will happen before the end of January if current rates of transmission continue,” he said, noting this would mean that 1 in 660 people would have died from the coronavirus.
According to government figures, Monday was the seventh day in a row when reported daily UK cases topped 50,000, while the number of patients in hospital with Covid has already exceeded the peak of the first wave.
Dr Kit Yates, co-director of the Centre for Mathematical Biology at the University of Bath and a member of the Independent Sage group of experts, said the outlook was grim.
“Case rates are still rising, which means death rates will rise – unless vaccination has a significant impact – over the next three weeks at least. Given the impact on spread from the return of schools, we might expect to see cases rising even more rapidly than they have been. On top of this, the potential for hospitals to be overwhelmed means the infection fatality rate will increase as we are not able to treat all people arriving in hospital with Covid properly,” he said.
While experts said vaccination would prevent many future deaths, reducing transmission remains crucial. “The current rate of about 500 deaths per day will decrease if transmission is reduced, but relatively slowly, and will remain high for several weeks,” said Medley. “Unfortunately, reducing transmission means more harms from restrictive measures.”
Independent Sage has already called for a national lockdown – a move backed on Sunday by the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, while documents released from Sage on Thursday also suggested that such severe restrictions might be necessary.
“It is not known whether measures with similar stringency and adherence as spring, with both primary and secondary schools closed, would be sufficient to bring R below 1 in the presence of the new variant,” one document states.
Yates said further measures were crucial. “The incredibly frustrating thing is that we know that the infections which will see death rates rise over the coming weeks are already taking place and we are not doing everything we can to prevent them,” he said. “It’s like being the passenger in a car accelerating downhill towards a cliff, knowing that the driver isn’t pushing the brake pedal.”
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, agreed that further restrictions were needed. “The cases, hospitalisations and deaths are sky-high and healthcare services are stretched across the country and in some places overwhelmed,” he said. “Alas, in my opinion, we need a national lockdown now of the kind we saw last spring, along with a huge scale-up of the vaccine rollout.”
Source: The Guardian
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