No clear communication from leaders on ‘sensible behaviour’ – Covid-19 adviser

Professor Andrew Hayward said the hospital system is ‘already pretty much on its knees’.

Catherine Wylie
Sunday 12 December 2021 14:44
People wearing face masks walking along Oxford Street, London (PA)
People wearing face masks walking along Oxford Street, London (PA)

There has been a lack of “clear communication” from leaders about how people’s own behaviour can help the NHS as it faces the impact of a large wave of Omicron infections, an expert advising the Government has said.

New modelling suggests that, under one scenario, almost twice the number of coronavirus patients could be admitted to hospital compared with last year due to Omicron.

Experts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) calculated figures which show a large wave of infections could occur over the next few months if tougher measures are not brought in.

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) from University College London, said Omicron is “much more infectious” than Delta and all previous strains.

What we can be pretty sure of is a very, very large wave of infections, bigger than the waves of infections that we’ve had before

Professor Andrew Hayward, Sage

“Maybe somewhere between twice and possibly three times as infectious,” he told LBC.

“What we can also see is that the vaccine, two doses of the vaccine, has relatively little impact on stopping that transmission.

“So putting those two together, and the fact that it’s already increasing, doubling every two or three days, what we can be pretty sure of is a very, very large wave of infections, bigger than the waves of infections that we’ve had before, so really the uncertainty is in how that’s going to translate into hospitalisations and deaths.”

He said the hospital system is already “on its knees” and there is a “big problem” ahead.

It was put to Prof Hayward that people may think ministers feel they have to put extra restrictions in place “based on modelling and theories”.

He told LBC: “There’s a very, very strong theoretical possibility here. It’s not just an off-chance that we’re talking about.

“And certainly we’re talking about a hospital system that is already pretty much on its knees with the current level of activity, and that level of activity is going to go up dramatically and much worse than a normal winter.

“So you know, there is going to be a big problem. The question is how much we’re prepared to do to stop that as a society.”

We have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best

Dr Susan Hopkins, UK Health Security Agency

Asked if more restrictions will be needed if there is a strong chance hospital admissions will increase, he told LBC: “Well, there’s either restrictions or there’s changes in population behaviour that arise from consistent messaging about how to reduce your exposure.

“And so, some of the simple things like just reducing the number of contacts that you have, avoiding crowded spaces, taking lateral flow tests before you go out to meet with people.

“Those aren’t restrictions. Those are sensible things that people can do to reduce their chance of catching the infection, spreading it on and help the NHS cope with the cases that they do see in this huge backlog.

“So that’s just sensible behaviour. But we’re not getting the clear communication about that sensible behaviour from our leaders at the moment.”

Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, the body representing NHS trusts, said the health and care system is under pressure “to a greater degree than we’ve ever seen” at this time of the year.

“And that’s really before two things. One is the traditional NHS winter peak that tends to happen in sort of early to mid-January.

So yes, the NHS is already, we're saying it's beyond full stretch already, and that's before we've hit winter and before we've got to deal with the consequences of Omicron

Chris Hopson, NHS Providers

“And then secondly, in terms of what might happen, in terms of this extra Omicron caseload.

“So yes, the NHS is already, we’re saying it’s beyond full stretch already, and that’s before we’ve hit winter and before we’ve got to deal with the consequences of Omicron,” he told BBC News.

Earlier, Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for the UK Health Security Agency, said there are concerns about the impact of Omicron on the NHS.

Asked if she is worried the new wave of infections could overwhelm the NHS, she told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “We are worried and we’re right to be worried because we don’t have enough data to narrow those predictions and those models down to the best finest detail yet, and it takes time to do that.

“I still think it will take another two weeks before we’re clear on whether the severity that South Africa have reported in some scenarios, but not in all, is going to be reflected here.

“We have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And I think our job is to highlight that this is a big wave. It’s coming straight at us. If we see even half the severity that we saw with Delta then we’re facing a very large number of hospitalisations and potential deaths.”

We do need to treat it as seriously as Delta, with all the kind of precautions that we took for Delta

Barry Schoub, Covid-19 adviser to S African government

Two weeks from Sunday is Boxing Day.

Professor Barry Schoub, Covid-19 adviser to the South African government, said he would advise the UK to avoid “trivialising” the impact of Omicron.

Asked if his advice to the UK would be to treat Omicron as being as serious as Delta or any other variant, Prof Schoub told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: “I think we need to. I think we must avoid trivialising it.

“At this stage, we’re still gathering information.”

He added: “So at the moment, we do need to treat it as seriously as Delta, with all the kind of precautions that we took for Delta.

“We can’t let up on that at the moment.”

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