England’s second COVID wave is outstripping Sage’s ‘worst case scenario’, government told

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for a meeting of cabinet ministers at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in London, England, on October 23, 2020. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The government was repeatedly warned that the numbers in the coronavirus second wave were around or exceeding the planned reasonable worst case scenario, documents show. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
  • Experts warned the government that England’s second wave of coronavirus is either in line or worse with the planned “reasonable worst case scenario”

  • Infections and hospital admissions have been “breaching” the scenario, documents show

  • A previous leak from Sage showed fears of another 85,000 COVID-19 deaths

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Boris Johnson was warned that England’s COVID-19 second wave was exceeding worse case scenario planning two weeks ago, newly published documents have revealed.

Papers show that COVID-19 infections and hospital admissions in England have been “breaching” the expectations outlined in what scientists thought the most realistic bad turn of events would look like.

Documents from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), dated to earlier in October – and released to the public on Friday – also show concern that the number of daily COVID-19 deaths was also in line with the reasonable worst case scenario and could still get worse.

A previous leak from Sage has shown that its reasonable worst case scenario forecast 85,000 deaths from coronavirus, nearly double the UK’s current death toll of 46,000.

A paper released on Friday shows how SPI-M-O, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group for Sage, warned that “in England, we are breaching the number of infections and hospital admissions in the Reasonable Worst Case planning scenario”.

The document, dated to 14 October, says: “The number of daily deaths is now in line with the levels in the Reasonable Worst Case and is almost certain to exceed this within the next two weeks.”

The paper adds that if new infections declined, the numbers exceeding the worst case scenario might only persist for another three or four weeks.

However, if R – a measure of whether the coronavirus outbreak is on the increase or receding – remained above 1, then “the epidemic will further diverge from the planning scenario”, the text warns.

On Friday, just over two weeks after the paper is dated, R had dropped slightly for the UK but its estimate remained above 1.

The government has tried to avoid a national lockdown for England, instead using local restrictions, but Wales is one area of the UK to go into a brief lockdown to try and bring infections down for winter.

Documents also show the government was also warned in a Sage meeting dated 8 October that: “In England the numbers of infections and hospital admissions exceed the Reasonable Worst Case Scenario (RWCS) planning levels at this time.

“Near-term projections indicate the number of deaths is highly likely to exceed RWCS planning levels within the next two weeks.

“Well over 100 new deaths per day are projected to occur within 2 weeks, even if strict new interventions are put in place immediately.”

Friday saw the government record 274 new deaths that took place within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test. Another 24,405 infections were also recorded.

Another SPI-M-O paper released on Friday, this one dated to 24 September, showed that experts were making warnings about the outbreak starting to exceed the worst case planning then.

“The epidemic is close to breaching the agreed Reasonable Worst Case Scenario on which NHS, DHSC (Department of Health) and HMG (the government) contingency plans are based,” it says.

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