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January could see a ‘severe peak’ of coronavirus infections if we ‘take our foot off the pedal’

Coronavirus infections could surge in January if we ‘take our foot off the pedal’ over December and the five-day festive break, a SAGE scientist has warned.

Professor Andrew Hayward, an infectious diseases expert at University College London (UCL), today called on Britons to stick to the rules to avoid a ‘severe peak’ and third wave in the new year.

He said it would be ‘sad’ to see a dramatic uptick, given the UK is just weeks/months away from vaccinating the elderly and care home residents against Covid-19, who are most vulnerable to the virus.

The jab – which the NHS will start administering from tomorrow – offers a ray of hope for a loosening of restrictions in the coming months because the most vulnerable will be protected against the virus. 

The number of daily Covid-19 infections has plummeted 40 per cent in the last three weeks – from a high of 25,331 on November 16 to 15,131 on December 6 – after England’s lockdown forced millions to stay home.

It comes after pictures over the weekend showed hundreds crowded together with scant regard for social distancing outside Harrods, in London, and Nottingham’s Christmas market over the weekend.

The virus may spread over December and the five day break in restrictions over Christmas

Professor Andrew Hayward, from SAGE, warned of a resurgence in the virus in January

Professor Andrew Hayward, from SAGE, warned of a resurgence in the virus in January

BRITAIN MAY NEED A LOCKDOWN IN JANUARY NEXT YEAR 

Britain may still face a circuit breaker lockdown in January or February despite the mass roll-out of Pfizer‘s Covid-19 vaccine, a top scientist has warned.

Professor Liam Smeeth, an epidemiology and public health expert at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, issued his caution as Britain today made one of 2020’s biggest breakthroughs and announced vaccination will start next week.   

Casting a shadow over re-ignited hopes of a return to normality, he added that the virus would be with us ‘for the forseeable future – and maybe forever’.

‘We are very unlikely to reach the situation we are in with smallpox (gone), polio (almost gone), or measles (controlled in populations with high enough vaccine coverage),’ he said. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Hayward warned: ‘We still have the winter to get through, which is likely to be the time which is most favourable for Covid-19 transmission.

‘We could still see a very severe peak, particularly I think probably in January, is when I predict that would be most likely if we take our foot off the pedal on this.

‘And that would be so sad considering we’re going to be in a stage where we can protect the most vulnerable during December, January, February and start to get as much back to normal in late Spring, early summer.’

He added that the pandemic is ‘certainly not over’ at present, and said scenes of large crowds pictured over the weekend were ‘concerning’. 

Boris Johnson has moved England into a tiered system of restrictions – although millions of people in the North of England are still under Tier Three restrictions banning visits to pubs and restaurants.

But there are concerns that the Christmas break in measures – when up to three households can meet over five days between December 23 and 27 – could trigger a third wave of the virus.

This is because many will mix with those they don’t usually see, before returning to their day-to-day lives, providing opportunities for the virus to spread.

Some people will be asymptomatic for the virus, which means they could pass it on despite displaying no symptoms.

There have been warnings not to hug grandparents over Christmas, and to keep the windows open, to protect elderly relatives from the virus.  

Professor Liam Smeeth, also a member of SAGE and from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, warned last week a third lockdown may be needed again in January or February should cases spiral.

He told MailOnline that while the need for it is ‘not certain’, he says most people expect the festive loosening in measures to trigger a spread of the virus.

‘Even the current tiered measures may then not be sufficient to bring the levels back under control and we might see an upward spiralling,’ he warned.

‘Because vaccinating substantial numbers is likely to take us into Spring, there may well be a need for a circuit breaker to bring levels down – once down, the hope would be less severe measures will keep them low and we will begin to see the benefits of vaccination.’

Britain recorded a further 17,272 coronavirus cases yesterday - marking a 42 per cent rise on last Sunday's total

Britain recorded a further 17,272 coronavirus cases yesterday – marking a 42 per cent rise on last Sunday’s total

Official figures released yesterday also revealed a further 231 people have died after testing positive for Covid-19 - a 7.4 per cent rise on the 215 deaths reported last Sunday

Official figures released yesterday also revealed a further 231 people have died after testing positive for Covid-19 – a 7.4 per cent rise on the 215 deaths reported last Sunday

Up to four million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine – enough for two million people – are expected to be administered in Britain by the end of December.

The first delivery was received by pharmacists in Croydon over the weekend, with more batches set to cross the channel in unmarked lorries.

The vaccine is 95 per cent effective against the virus, and could offer more than a year of immunity.

The NHS will begin vaccinating the over-80s and care home residents from tomorrow. 


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