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Act now to prevent second wave of Covid-19, warns academy

Academy of Medical Sciences calls for ‘intense preparation’ for outbreak in winter

The UK must prepare for a second and potentially more deadly wave of coronavirus infections this winter, the Academy of Medical Sciences has warned.

In its report, Preparing for a Challenging Winter 2020/21, the academy calls for “intense preparation” throughout July and August to prepare for a “reasonable worst-case scenario” in the winter. The academy’s modelling suggests that by this time the average number of people infected by someone carrying the virus will rise to 1.7 from a current figure of under one.

As well as a possible large resurgence of Covid-19, a backlog of patients needing NHS assessment and treatment, and a potential flu epidemic are likely to increase pressure on the already overstretched NHS, according to the report—which was written by an advisory group of 37 experts following a request from the government’s chief scientific adviser.

“This is not a prediction, but it is a possibility,” said Stephen Holgate, a respiratory specialist at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, who chaired the report.

“The modelling suggests that deaths could be higher with a new wave of Covid-19 this winter, but the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately.

“With relatively low numbers of Covid-19 cases at the moment, this is a critical window of opportunity to help us prepare for the worst that winter can throw at us.”

The report sets out a number of priorities for mitigating the risks, including minimising community transmission and impact through a public information campaign, policies such as physical distancing and the wearing of face coverings and expanding the capacity of the government’s test, trace and isolate programme.

The report advises the government to reorganise health and social care staff and facilities to maintain separate Covid-19 and Covid-19-free zones. It also recommends ensuring there is adequate PPE, testing and control measures to minimise transmission in hospitals and care homes.

Other priorities include improving public health surveillance for Covid-19, flu and other winter diseases, as well as getting more people vaccinated against flu.

Anne Johnson, the Academy of Medical Sciences’ vice-president, said the report “shows that we can act now to change things for the better”.

“We need to minimise coronavirus and flu transmission everywhere, and especially in hospitals and care homes. We need to get our health and social care, and the track, trace and isolate programme ready for winter. This can be done, but it must be done now.”