The doom-mongers of SAGE were out in force again yesterday, building on their recent victory in Downing Street to keep stoking the fear. The Independent brings us the latest wisdom from Imperial College’s Professor Neil Ferguson.
The third wave of COVID-19 cases in the UK has already began, according to Government advisers – who said it was possible strict lockdown curbs would have to reintroduced at some point this year.
It comes as a new study commissioned by the Government found Covid infections have increased 50% since the start of May – as the country struggles to combat the rise of the highly-transmissible Delta variant first detected in India.
“We’re at the beginning of [the third wave] now,” said Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial epidemiologist dubbed “Professor Lockdown” by the tabloid press.
Ferguson told a media briefing that his latest modelling predicts between 100 and 1,200 deaths a day at the peak of the summer “third wave”, before raising the possibility that restrictions may need to be introduced.
I’m very much hoping we won’t need to reverse course [on the easing of restrictions] – and I suspect we won’t. We will inevitably see cases and hospitalisations rise. But the key is [how] manageable the level is.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty gave a similar warning.
Speaking to the NHS Confederation, the Chief Medical Officer for England said that the current upsurge in cases of the Delta variant first identified in India will “definitely” translate into further hospitalisations and deaths.
And he added: “My expectation is that we will get a further winter surge – late autumn-winter surge.
“And that’s because we know that winter and autumn favour respiratory viruses, and therefore it would be very surprising if this particularly highly transmissible virus was not also favoured. So we’ll get the current wave – an exit wave – then I do think most people think that there will be further problems over the winter.
“How big they will be I think is uncertain. That partly depends on [whether] we get any variants that can evade vaccines better, and on how the current wave passes through the UK. …
“We have to just be aware that Covid has not thrown its last surprise at us.”
SAGE’s latest official advice to the Government has been published, projecting a “summer wave” that is comparable to the spring 2020 wave. It writes: “Under most scenarios, this summer wave would be smaller than the January 2021 wave, in terms of hospitalisations and deaths, but comparable to the April or October 2020 waves.” (SAGE here seems to be unaware that it was only testing that made the January surge seem larger than the spring.)
The latest data from Imperial’s REACT study, covering the period May 20th to June 7th, was also published yesterday, showing infections are “rising exponentially” and “doubling every 11 days“.
The recent Covid spike is already beginning to flatten, latest data show, as experts said Britain was experiencing a “mini wave” which was likely to peak within two weeks.
Latest data from the King’s College ZOE symptom tracker app, which monitors community prevalence, show cases in unvaccinated people rose by just 28% up to June 12th, compared to 114% the previous week.
Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the app and Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College, said it looked as if cases would peak within a fortnight.
The good news is that this isn’t going up as fast as it was. This has been a much better week than it was last week. I think we can start to see an end to this little mini wave in the young and the extra time we’ve got should be able to squash this from getting out of control.
Rates in the North West of the country and Scotland are still going up but you can definitely see signs they are starting to level off. Rates in London look like they are starting to slow down.
If we look at the way past waves have come and gone I would be predicting that this should be peaking around 10 to 14 days time and then start to fall, so by four weeks we are at a much lower level than we are now, and much more manageable.
I think this suggests that this should be the end of this summer wave, it doesn’t mean there won’t be other waves outbreaks.
Positive tests in Blackburn – a Delta variant hotspot – have also begun to decline.
Here are some charts from the latest ZOE report showing the slowing rate of increase.
The difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated infection rates here is striking. However, caution is needed in assuming it is all a result of the vaccines working as it is mostly older people who are vaccinated and older people have experienced a lower infection rate throughout the pandemic. Here’s the latest ZOE breakdown by age, with a clear dominance of the 20-29 age group.
Here’s the age breakdown for the winter surge.
And here’s autumn.
The patterns are very similar in each, with the over 60s consistently low and the 20-40s consistently higher. It’s therefore hard to tell without more detailed breakdown within age groups how much of the current difference is down to vaccines. I’ve contacted ZOE to see if they can provide more detail on this and will report anything I receive.
Last week the models of doom were wheeled out to predict imminent catastrophe, with even a four-week delay to reopening said to do little to mitigate it. Well, now it looks like all these forecasts are once again wrong. In these circumstances, how long can SAGE’s reign of error continue? How long will Boris continue to be taken in by these latter-day Rasputins?
The discontent within the ranks of Tory MPs is reportedly considerable – far bigger than Wednesday’s Commons rebellion of 49 MPs might have you believe. In the Spectator, Katy Balls writes that the anger over this latest SAGE coup extends beyond the “usual suspects” to include senior Government ministers, one of whom told her that “few” members of the Government actually support a delay but consider that it’s “not up to” them.
Ever since the first lockdown, there has been grumbling from Tory backbenchers, often to little avail. The frequency with which members of the party’s Covid Recovery Group object means that their complaints are not taken particularly seriously. This time, however, the Whips have been struck by how many party loyalists and members on the payroll have been in touch to let their unhappiness be known. “Everyone is seething,” says one member of the 2019 intake. “It’s not just the usual suspects this time.”
While cabinet collective responsibility is broadly holding, there are hints of slippage. “I don’t support a delay. Few of us do,” says a senior minister. “But it’s not up to me.”
The worry is that once the end of lockdown has been delayed, it is easier to do it again. The SAGE documents suggest that in a few weeks’ time the number of hospitalisations will be nearing its peak. “If the number of cases and hospitalisations are worse, does Boris really have the nerve to unlock then?” asks one Tory MP.
But if the prophesied deluge turns out to be a mere ripple – as increasingly looks to be the case – what then? Will the Government finally, under pressure from its MPs, kick its bad habit of listening only to a very select group of scientific advisers, all of whom are heavily invested in a particular narrative? We can but hope.
Stop Press: The Daily Mail wonders: Could we be free on July 5th?