The number of coronavirus infections and hospital admissions in England has surpassed government scientific advisers’ worst-case scenario, according to a new document published on Friday, adding to pressure on Boris Johnson, prime minister, to introduce tougher Covid-19 restrictions.
In a document dated October 14, a scientific advisory group to the government also said the number of daily deaths from coronavirus was now in line with the “reasonable worst-case” scenario.
The disclosure came as government and London city hall insiders said the capital was set to enter the toughest coronavirus restrictions within two weeks.
A senior government official on Friday confirmed that the current trajectory of the virus was exceeding scientific advisers’ bleakest projections, and that any circuit-breaker lockdown would have to last longer than two weeks to have a “reasonable effect”.
The October 14 document by the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) said its modelling suggested there were between 43,000 and 74,000 new infections a day in England.
It added that “the number of infections and hospital admissions are breaching those in the reasonable worst-case planning scenario”.
A separate document agreed by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) dated July 30 — and obtained by the Spectator magazine — modelled a worst-case scenario for deaths in the UK of less than 100 a day throughout October.
But the document said this scenario could involve 85,000 deaths between July and the spring of next year, with a peak of 800 a day in March.
The UK on Friday reported 274 deaths from Covid-19 in the latest 24-hour period and 24,405 people testing positive for coronavirus.
The senior government official said that with cases as high as they were currently, test and trace systems would not be sufficient to reduce the rate of viral transmission.
He added it was clear that the toughest coronavirus restrictions in England known as tier 3 measures were not going far enough to keep the R number — the average number of people each infected individual passes the virus on to — below 1.
Minutes of an October 8 meeting of Sage and released on Friday said: “If there are no decisive interventions, continued growth [in hospital admissions] would have the potential to overwhelm the NHS, including the continued delivery of non-Covid treatments.”
According to data from the Office for National Statistics published on Friday, 568,100 people in England had coronavirus in the week to October 23, equating to 1 in 100. This was up from 1 in 130 in the previous week.
The government office for science estimated the R number in the UK was between 1.1 and 1.3, compared to 1.2 and 1.4 last week.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, said: “It’s urgent Boris Johnson outlines the action he will now take to bring the virus under control and deliver on his promise to get the R below 1 quickly.”
According to government and London city hall figures, the capital will move into tier 3 restrictions within a fortnight — with the likely closure of pubs and bars — unless a rise in infections slows.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the government was committed to its “targeted” strategy of localised restrictions and criticised the “arbitrariness of a blanket approach”.
However, he refused to rule out tougher restrictions, saying: “We’re always ready for further measures that we can take.”