The coronavirus epidemic in the UK will last until next spring and could see as many as 7.9m people hospitalised, according to a leaked Public Health England briefing.
The report, drawn up for NHS bosses and senior doctors, signals that health chiefs are expecting up to 80% of Britons to become infected with the coronavirus in the next 12 months.
The document, seen by The Guardian, says: “As many as 80% of the population are expected to be infected with Covid-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15% (7.9 million people) may require hospitalisation.”
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A senior NHS figure involved in preparing for the growing “surge” in patients said an 80% infection rate could lead to more than half a million deaths based on a 1% mortality rate.
However, the government’s chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, has insisted that the rate will be closer to 0.6%, a figure that would involve 318,000 people dying.
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The briefing estimates that 500,000 of the five million people who work “in essential services and critical infrastructure” will be off sick at any one time during a month-long peak of the epidemic. This includes NHS staff and social care workers.
The Guardian notes that the briefing also “raises questions about how Britain would continue to function normally”, warning that: “It is estimated that at least 10% of people in the UK will have a cough at any one time during the months of peak Covid-19 activity.”
Under the current government health advice, anyone with a cough or fever should self-isolate for at least seven days to ensure that they do not pass on the infection.
The report also suggests that NHS staff will not be tested for the virus. From now on, it says, only the very seriously ill who are already in hospital and people in care homes and prisons where the coronavirus has been detected will get tested.
One expert in the report warns that coronavirus will be “around forever, but become less severe over time, as immunity builds up”.
Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “For the public to hear that [coronavirus] could last for 12 months, people are going to be really upset... and pretty worried about that.”
“I think it will dip in the summer, towards the end of June, and come back in November, in the way that usual seasonal flu does.”
A total of 35 people have died in the UK after contracting Covid-19. The number of confirmed UK cases of the virus has reached 1,372, with 40,279 people tested, according to government figures.
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