NHS ‘faces breaking point by November’ without masks and social distancing as Covid cases rise

The NHS will be at breaking point within two months if the Government fails to implement basic Covid precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing, a new scientific paper has found. 

By David Parsley inews.co.uk

The paper, which is at the pre-publication stage at the highly regarded medical journal The Lancet, has been authored by a number of leading scientists and was funded by vaccine producer Moderna. 

The report finds that, even with a 100 per cent take up among the over-16s currently being offered a vaccine, there will have been up to one million hospital admissions to Covid wards between “freedom day” on 19 July and the end of the year if the reproduction rate (R-rate) rises above two. 

At an R-rate of 1.7 the paper, seen by i, estimates that the UK will suffer a further 340,000 hospital admissions before the end of the year. 

The current R-rate in England is 0.9 to 1.1, but with the margin of error could be as high a 1.3. In Scotland, three weeks after schools returned, the R-rate stands at around 1.3 to 1.6. 

Without any Covid restrictions in place and with pupils returning to school in England this week, one of the authors of the research believes NHS hospital admissions for Covid across the UK will have reached that same level as at the last peak of 5,671 on 12 January. 

Co-author Dr David Strain, a senior clinical lecturer in the college of medicine and health at the University of Exeter, said: “We found that there is going to be a steady and continued rise in infections and hospitalisations if further interventions are not put in place, whether they be physical distancing, the reintroduction of masks, or different vaccines strategies. 

“If we don’t do anything, hospitalisations will be at the same level as they were at the previous peak by the beginning of November.” 

Since pupils return to school in Scotland three weeks ago there has been a more than fourfold increase in infections north of the border, while hospital admissions are up more than 3.5 times those before the autumn term began.

However, Scotland did open up other hospitality venues and large events around the same time a school pupils returned. 

Dr Strain believes the Government must do something in order to mitigate an “inevitable” rise in cases over the coming weeks in order to ensure the NHS remains operational. 

“We have to do something,” he said. “Whether that something is a firebreak, whether that something is changing the vaccination strategy, or just reintroducing masks and social distancing. But we will definitely have to do something between now and Christmas.” 

The report’s authors also include three researchers from the modelling group Health Economics and Outcomes Research, Marc Evans of Cardiff University, as well as three scientist from Moderna. 

Despite ongoing concerns that the Government may be forced to re-introduce Covid restrictions, ministers have claimed any lockdown in October to ensure the NHS is not pushed beyond capacity was a “last resort”. 

A senior No.10 source suggested to i last night that the only contingency measures under active consideration by ministers in case of unsustainable pressure on the NHS were relatively non-invasive ones such as mask wearing and capacity limits at large events.