Britain faces soaring Covid-19 death rate unless it acts fast

Govt experts point to high daily figures, rising hospitalisations, testing system under strain

Left: Diners at a restaurant in London. Medical experts say that with winter approaching, the Covid-19 problem would haunt Britain for another six months at least. The country has the highest official Covid-19 death toll in Europe - and the fifth-lar
Above: Diners at a restaurant in London. Medical experts say that with winter approaching, the Covid-19 problem would haunt Britain for another six months at least. The country has the highest official Covid-19 death toll in Europe - and the fifth-largest in the world. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Left: Diners at a restaurant in London. Medical experts say that with winter approaching, the Covid-19 problem would haunt Britain for another six months at least. The country has the highest official Covid-19 death toll in Europe - and the fifth-lar
Above: Police officers clashing with demonstrators at a protest against vaccination and Covid-19 restrictions such as mask wearing and lockdowns, at Trafalgar Square in London last Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Britain will face an exponentially growing death rate from Covid-19 within weeks unless urgent action is taken to halt a rapidly spreading second wave of the outbreak, the country's senior medics said yesterday.

It already has the highest official Covid-19 death toll in Europe - and the fifth-largest in the world - while it is also borrowing record amounts in an attempt to pump emergency money through the damaged economy.

But new cases are rising by at least 6,000 per day in Britain, according to week-old data, hospital admissions are doubling every eight days, and the testing system is buckling.

Professor Chris Whitty, the government's chief medical officer, and Dr Patrick Vallance, its chief scientific adviser, cautioned that if left unrestricted, the epidemic would reach 50,000 new cases per day by the middle of next month in the United Kingdom.

"If this continued along the path... the number of deaths directly from Covid... will continue to rise, potentially on an exponential curve, that means doubling and doubling and doubling again, and you can quickly move from really quite small numbers to really very large numbers," Prof Whitty said.

"If we don't do enough, the virus will take off and at the moment, that is the path that we are clearly on and if we do not change course, then we're going to find ourselves in a very difficult problem."

The virus is spreading across all areas of the country and less than 8 per cent of the population have antibodies to the virus, though in London, around 17 per cent of the population may have antibodies, Dr Vallance said.

Speed and action are urgently needed, both medical experts said, adding that as winter was approaching, the Covid-19 problem would haunt Britain for another six months at least.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to make a statement in the Lower House of Parliament today, the leader of the House of Commons said.

 
 

Mr Johnson will also chair an emergency response meeting - a so-called Cobra meeting - today to discuss what steps might be needed next to tackle a resurgence in the pandemic, his spokesman said.

The British PM was due to talk to the leaders of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales yesterday.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the restrictions would be different from the last time. The government wants to crack down on socialising, but schools and many workplaces will stay open.

Meanwhile, semi-autonomous governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have directed much of their response to the pandemic in those areas.

Wales has slapped curbs on four more areas - Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport - leaving just under a third of the population under restriction.

The restrictions prevent people from entering these areas without a reasonable excuse such as education or work. Residents are also allowed to only meet outdoors people they do not live with.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said more restrictions were almost certain to be imposed. "I need to be absolutely straight with people. Across Scotland, additional restrictions will almost certainly be put in place... over the next couple of days," she said.

Britain's official death toll stands at 41,777 people.

REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2020, with the headline 'Britain faces soaring Covid-19 death rate unless it acts fast'. Print Edition | Subscribe