Document forecasts NHS unable to accept more patients by Christmas – even if non-urgent procedures cancelled
More than 4,000 people could be dying from coronavirus every day unless a new lockdown is imposed, scientists have warned Boris Johnson.
Hospitalisations would not peak until the middle of December, with deaths continuing to rise until at the end of the year, says the BBC which has seen the document.
A separate paper circulating in government says the NHS would be unable to accept any more patients by Christmas – even if the Nightingale hospitals are used and non-urgent procedures cancelled.
It warns “the window to act is now for the majority of the country” and that, if no action is taken to control surging Covid infections, other forms of emergency care may have to be rationed.
The documents, from the SPI-M group of scientists, underline why the prime minister is now expected to impose a month-long lockdown from as early as next Wednesday, in another breathtaking U-turn.
They make different projections of the likely course of the virus – but all predict far more infections and deaths than during the spring, when deaths reached more than a thousand a day.
The prime minister is set to hold a press conference on Monday to announce the new restrictions, possibly closing everything except essential shops and nurseries, schools and universities.
No final decision has been made and tougher regional measures, known as Tier 4, are still being considered, but ministers are understood to favour a national policy.
Mr Johnson met Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, on Friday to discuss the “alarming” new data.
A new lockdown will heap huge fresh criticism on Mr Johnson for failing to adopt a short “circuit break” this month – when it was recommended by his scientists and backed by Keir Starmer.
Instead, he branded the idea “the height of absurdity”, but is now faced with having to impose a much longer shutdown, in the run-up to Christmas.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Sage advisory group of scientists, said the UK was now faced with paying the price for delay.
“Decisions are horrible, they are very difficult, but putting them off doesn’t make them any easier. In fact it makes them more difficult,” he said.
“And so, if we are going to put the brakes on the epidemic now, then unfortunately we’re going to have to put the brakes on harder and longer to bring the cases down to what might be an acceptable level.”
It was now possible that the “worst case scenario” of 85,000 coronavirus deaths this winter – more than during the first wave – would be exceeded.
“It is really unthinkable now, unfortunately, that we don’t count our deaths in tens of thousands from this wave.
“The issue is, is that going to be low tens of thousands if we take radical action now or is that going to be the high tens of thousands if we don’t?”
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