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UK may see ‘large wave’ of covid cases when schools return

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Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said he feels that although it is very hard to predict what could happen, the UK is in “a slightly sobering situation”. He advised Britons to remain vigilant as he issued a warning on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said: “What we’ve seen is, and it probably was associated with the Euros, that rapid uptick in early July and then rapid decline. But case numbers have basically plateaued at this time and are really quite high ‑ it’s about 30,000 cases a day.

“That’s a slightly sobering situation to be in coming into September because our contact rates are at about half of normal levels and in school holidays children don’t have that many contacts.

“We’ll be reopening schools, people are going to be going back to offices in September. So we still have the potential of quite a large wave of infection in September/October.”

Pressed on whether the 100,000 daily cases figure might be hit, Prof Ferguson said it was possible, but admitted he does not feel “over-eager” about predicting numbers.

As vaccinations are protecting people against severe disease, he added that it is very unlikely that deaths would rise to levels seen in January.

However, he warned the autumn and winter could still prove challenging for the NHS, saying: “In the worst case scenarios we could be getting, probably not up to January levels, but still at levels of well over 1,000 admissions per day potentially which does stress the health system.”

The epidemiologist emphasised that lockdowns would no longer be the most effective defence come the autumn, explaining: “What it will stop with is the acquisition of immunity in the population, so it will naturally decline.

“That’s the point where we start living with Covid, where it becomes an endemic disease.”

Last week, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, suggested the concept of herd immunity via vaccination was “not a possibility” due to Covid-19’s more transmissible Delta variant.

Responding to this comment, Prof Ferguson said: “Whether it’s ever going to be enough to stop transmission, is an open question.

“We may well move to a much more endemic situation of hopefully low-level transmission in the population. And we know that immunity wanes over time so we will probably have to top up vaccination at some point.”

Reflecting on changes to self-isolation rules, the expert added that they may cause a “little” upswing in cases if people do not get tested.

There were 28,438 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed across the UK yesterday, along with 26 deaths.

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