Imperial’s Professor Neil Ferguson says that measures to mitigate COVID-19 transmission could be considered if hospitalisations were to double.
“At the moment we’re running at 600 hospital admissions a day in the UK due to COVID-19. I think if we saw that double, then that would be the sort of level where we would need to be thinking about moving to Plan B." Professor Neil Ferguson Director of MRC-GIDA and the Jameel Institute
Giving evidence on winter preparedness to the All-Party Group on Coronavirus, Professor Ferguson said that hospital capacity in the UK is already limited and a winter surge in infections would heavily stress the NHS.
Professor Ferguson, Director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis and Jameel Institute said: “At the moment we’re running at 600 hospital admissions a day in the UK due to COVID-19.
“I think if we saw that double, then that would be the sort of level where we would need to be thinking about moving to Plan B.
“The lesson we have learned is that if you start seeing an upward trend and that is sustained for a period of time, then you need to get ahead of it.”
Outlook for winter and next year
Professor Ferguson added: “It is harder to predict what will happen this year compared to last year when there was much less immunity in the population.
“We start at a high incidence of cases compared with Spain, Italy and other European countries, so we don't have much head room. We are also quite close to the limit of what the NHS can currently cope with.”
Professor Ferguson said that contact rates between people in the UK had still not returned to pre-pandemic levels which was helping to keep transmission stable.
He said: “I don’t think we’re in a position where we can make reliable predictions of what the next few months will hold, the key uncertainties are: what will happen to population immunity – we know that it wanes over time; what will happen to contact rates in the population; and then layered on top of that, the effect of seasonality in transmission due to climate – which we still don’t fully understand.”
Prof Ferguson added: “I personally think it’s unlikely we’ll see a very large wave comparable to what we saw in the second wave last year, but we could still see quite a substantial wave of transmission, and the real challenge will be the extent to which that stresses the NHS, where capacity is limited.”
Professor Ferguson also said that he expects seasonal surges of COVID-19 over the next few years.
Professor Ferguson said: “It is not easy to define the end of the pandemic. We are moving to a time where COVID-19 is endemic in all parts of the world.
"I think if we’re talking about the end of pandemic being defined by when we can move out of an emergency situation, in relying on non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) and test and trace, to entirely relying on vaccination, then the number one thing the government can do is increase vaccination coverage, roll out boosters and two doses for teenagers, and thus ensure population immunity is as high as possible.”
Professor Neil Ferguson also discussed the current vaccine rollout to teenagers and the booster programme.
He said: "We need to be a little less cautious in accelerating second-dose rollout in teenagers, where possible, because we know that one dose of these vaccines against the Delta variant has a minor impact on transmission.”
“It is only after two doses we start seeing a significant impact."
He continued: "I’d like to see us be a little bit more aggressive in rolling out booster doses as well, because the sooner we can, the sooner we will reap the benefits."
The APPG on Coronavirus, chaired by Layla Moran MP, also heard from Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Dr Jonathan Cylus, from the London School of Economics, Professor Antoine Flahault, from the University of Geneva and Professor Kate Ardern, Director of Public Health at Wigan Council.
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Dr Sabine L. van Elsland
School of Public Health