Deaths from lockdown may exceed those from Covid says expert

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The UK could be facing a fresh wave of Covid this winter as infection and death rates rates have begun to creep up again, an expert has warned. It comes as deaths in England related to COVID-19 and Wales saw their highest weekly rise since late August in the week ending 7 October 2022. According to data from the Office for National Statistics, 400 people had Covid-related deaths, close to a 40 percent jump from the 287 deaths from the week before. 63.5 percent (254 deaths) had Covid recorded as the underlying cause of death, a slight increase on the previous week, when it was 63.1 percent (181 deaths).

Meanwhile, in the week ending around 1.5million – or one in 35 people – in private households in England tested positive for the virus in the week up to October 3. Up from 1.1million, the same as one in 50 people, the week before. And across Britain over the same period, infections soared by a third with up to 1.7million people testing positive.

But Prof Francois Balloux, Director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said that cases are only increasing moderately for now, although we can expect a lot worse this winter. He told “We have recently seen a moderate wave of SARS-CoV-2. Though, it looks like case numbers have peaked throughout Europe by now. We don’t expect another big wave in the immediate future.”

However, he warned that “we can anticipate another wave this winter. Every wave leads to additional hospitalisations and deaths”. But he added that as a large portion of the population is now vaccinated, we are unlikely to see a return of previous spikes which lead to lockdowns and millions of deaths.

Prof Balloux said: “Unless there will be another major evolutionary shift in the virus, such as the emergence of the Alpha, Delta or Omicron variants, Covid mortality this coming winter won’t be back to what we experienced earlier in the pandemic.

“As long as we’re facing offshoots of the current Omicron strains in circulation, current levels of immunisation due to vaccination and prior infection should hold up well.”

Regarding the perhaps alarming rise in Covid-related deaths, he explained: “It takes about three weeks on average for the people worst affected by Covid to die from it. Thus, Covid deaths lag cases. Covid daily deaths still go up for a little while after case numbers are coming down.”

Health officials have warned of a “twindemic” this winter, where cases of both COVID-19 and flu soar. But the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA)’s weekly surveillance report from October 7 showed that there are still only “low levels” of influenza activity.

Commenting on those figures, Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor at UKHSA, said: “This week’s data shows concerning further increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisation rates, which are now at their highest level in months. Outbreaks in hospitals and care homes are also on the rise.”

The NHS is urging Britons to get the vaccine for both the flu and COVID-19 as winter looms and pressures on the health service begin to rise. Around 400,000 people in the UK have been pinpointed as being at risk of serious illness from coronavirus.

Dr Linda Charles-Ozuzu, regional director of commissioning for NHS England said: “As we prepare for a challenging winter with Covid-19 and flu infections, it is crucial everyone eligible is vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them from becoming seriously ill.

Infections are reportedly rising fastest in the oldest (most vulnerable), age category. While this age group is most at risk of serious illness, up to 94 percent of over 80s in England have had at least three doses of the vaccines, with more than half having taken up the offer of a booster shot so far this autumn. 

Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said: “This is the first year where people are going to be mixing normally so I’m expecting that there is going to be more infection going around.

“The big difference obviously is that most people have been vaccinated. And, certainly the older age group, is very, very highly vaccinated so that should protect against more severe forms of disease.”

And last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned that a new wave of Covid is sweeping across Europe.

The WHO’s Europe director, Hans Kluge, and the ECDC’s director, Andrea Ammon, said in a joint statement: “Although we are not where we were one year ago, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is still not over. We are unfortunately seeing indicators rising again in Europe, suggesting that another wave of infections has begun.”

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