THE NEXT seven days will be crucial to see if Covid vaccines will be strong enough to stop a third wave in the UK, experts say.
The Indian variant is rising in case numbers and risks triggering another surge of hospitalisations and possibly deaths.
Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest updatesThe public are being urged to get their second doses, which offer the most protection. Pictured: Bolton, a Covid Indian variant hotspot[/caption]
There are very early indications this is already happening.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said that hospitals in areas most affected by the Indian variant were treating more patients.
He wrote on Twitter: “Hospitalisations increasing steadily but not precipitately [sic]. The next week or so will be key.”
CEO’s of NHS Trusts describe the next seven days as “the crucial week”, Mr Hopson said.
Case numbers in the UK rose by 18 per cent yesterday compared to the figure reported last Wednesday.
They tipped over 3,000 for the first time since early April, with the daily average up by 300 since the start of May.
Hospital admissions rose 11 per cent in one week, according to official figures.
There were 789 admissions in the UK in the most recent week, up from 712 the previous week.
Deaths are still very low, at around six per day – the lowest since before the March 2020 wave.
Usually a rise in cases is followed by hospitalisations and deaths, with lockdowns needed to relieve pressure on the NHS.
But the UK is in a very different situation now, with the help of the rapid vaccine rollout.
Christina Pagel, a mathematician and professor of operational research at University College London, said the outbreak could go one of two ways.
She told The Sun: “I do think the next two weeks are really critical.
“Cases are going up, and hospitalisations have just started to go up in England. They are not big numbers, but we have changed trajectory.Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the next seven days were “crucial”[/caption]
“If Public Health England is right, and the Indian variant is dominant now, and it is as bad as feared, then we should start to see quite big increases in the next two weeks.
“If we don’t see those increases, I think we should be okay and we should be able to vaccinate people quickly enough to avoid a big surge.
“But if cases go up a lot – if by the first week of June we have 5,000 to 6,000 cases a day – then I think we are on quite a bad trajectory.”
Similarly Professor Neil Ferguson, dubbed “Professor Lockdown” for influencing ministers to shutdown in March 2020, said we will know “in the next two or three weeks” if the June 21 rule relaxations will go ahead.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “It was always expected that relaxation would lead to a surge in infections and to some extent a small third wave of transmission – that’s inevitable if you allow contact rates in population to go up, even despite immunity.
“(But) we can’t cope with that being too large.”
The UK still has around 27 per cent of the adult population to offer a first dose to, and all but a fraction will be under 30.
It’s in the younger populations, including schoolchildren, that cases of the Indian variant are concentrated.
Meanwhile less than half the population have had a second vaccine dose – deemed crucial to have a decent level of protection against the Indian variant.
Studies have shown just one dose of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer gives 33 per cent protection against the Indian strain.
Experts said “a single dose is not particularly protective”.
Mr Hopson told Times Radio it was “clear that actually the one jab doesn’t give you the same level of protection as the second jab”.
He said that most currently in hospital have not had a jab, “a number” have had a single jab but “a very small number” are fully vaccinated with both doses.
“The vast majority of people who are in hospital are people who have not been vaccinated, either because they were eligible and they haven’t come forward but also there are younger people who haven’t been vaccinated.”
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today that 10 per cent of those hospitalised with Covid are already fully vaccinated.
It’s a sign that, while the jab works well, the mutation can still get around inoculation in some cases.
Hospitals getting busier
The Indian variant B1.617.2 is becoming prolific in a number of cities and towns in England, with Bolton, Bedford and Blackburn the hotspots.
A surge in cases in Glasgow is also thought to be caused by the super infectious strain.
Mr Hopson said that the rate of hospital admissions was “ticking up”, but not at the same levels seen during January and February.
Speaking to Times Radio, he said: “So let’s just give you an example, one chief executive I spoke to said they had 20 hospitalisations last week, they’ve got 40 hospitalisations this week, they’re expecting 60 hospitalisations next week.
“But this was in a hospital that in January and February was trying to deal with 150 Covid-19 patients.”
He said the age profile of the patients being admitted to hospital was “different” and not putting pressure on critical care units.
“In January and February, because you had much older, iller patients, you had much greater pressure on critical care because those patients were very seriously ill”, he said.
“In the hospital I was speaking to yesterday, around 70 per cent of the hospitalisations are (among people) under 45 – what they’re finding is that a much higher proportion of patients are actually being dealt with, and are being treated, in general and acute beds.
“So, as well as smaller numbers compared to the January and February, there’s actually lower levels of acuity and there’s less pressure on critical care.”
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Health leaders in Bolton said its hospital had seen one of the busiest ever days on Monday.
With additional Covid admissions, the A&E department is also flooded with people with symptoms who fear they have the virus.
At the same time, Mr Hopson said hospitals were “going full pelt” on the NHS waiting list, seeing increasing numbers of patients for operations that were delayed.