Coronavirus: UK winter could see 85,000 deaths in second wave, says leaked Sage report

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By Andrew Woodcock

As many as 85,000 people could die in the UK in a second wave of coronavirus this winter, a leaked scientific paper prepared for the government has suggested.

The paper by the prime minister’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage), seen by BBC2’s Newsnight, said that some lockdown restrictions may have to be reintroduced and kept in place until March 2021, though it added that schools are likely to remain open. The document stressed that it was setting out a worst-case scenario and not a prediction of what is likely to happen and said that there was “a wide range of uncertainty” about the actual outcome.

It was prepared to help the NHS and local authorities plan services such as mortuaries and burials to ensure they are not overwhelmed in the months ahead.

According to Newsnight, the document was drawn up on the assumption that schools will remain open and that the government’s tracing, isolation, and quarantine measures will only be 40 per cent effective in cutting the spread of Covid-19 outside households. And it worked on the basis that in the case of a new spike in Covid infection, by November “policy measures would be put in place to reduce non-household contacts to half of their normal pre-March 2020 levels”.

The model found that in a worst-case scenario, there could be 81,000 excess deaths due to Covid in England and Wales between July 2020 and March 2021, along with 27,000 excess deaths from non-coronavirus causes. In Scotland there could be 2,600 direct Covid deaths, and 1,900 in Northern Ireland. This would represent a significant increase on fatalities from the first wave of coronavirus, which has so far claimed 41,486 lives according to the official government tally.

The figures suggested that around 2.4 per cent of infected people could be hospitalised, though it said there were a wide range in possible outcomes from 0.0 -8.9 per cent. It suggested that 20.5 per cent of hospitalised patients could go into intensive care (range: 1.5 – 35.25 per cent) and 23.3 per cent (range: 1.2 – 43.3 per cent) of all hospitalised patients dying.

The model also predicts an overall infection fatality ratio of 0.7 per cent (0.0 – 9.7 per cent).

In response to the leaked report, a UK government spokesperson said: “As a responsible government we have been planning and continue to prepare for a wide range of scenarios, including the reasonable worst-case scenario.

“Our planning is not a forecast or prediction of what will happen. It reflects a responsible government ensuring we are ready for all eventualities.”

Source: The Independent