A second wave of coronavirus in Britain could bring twice as many deaths as the first, experts have warned, in a report commissioned by the UK's Chief Scientific Adviser.
A group of 37 scientists, from the Academy of Medical Sciences, were asked by Sir Patrick Vallance to model a reasonable worst-case scenario for the forthcoming winter, and advise the Government on how to prevent it.
The experts warned that 119,000 people may die in hospital if a second wave hits while the NHS is dealing with a bad winter flu season.
Under such a doomsday scenario, the reproduction "R" rate would rise to 1.7 by September, with infections peaking in January and February.
The overall number of deaths could be even higher, as the report does not factor in deaths in care homes.The authors said it was critical to reorganise the NHS and social care so that coronavirus patients were kept away from others.
Widespread testing, ramped up contact tracing and nationwide surveillance were also vital to stay on top of the disease, the experts said, and they called for a wider uptake of the flu vaccine to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.
"The window for action is now," said report author Dame Anne Johnson, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London. "Infection rates are low and we've got time to think, breathe, and get on top of things."
The report warned that a new wave, combined with the NHS treatment backlog and the possibility of a flu epidemic, could pose a serious risk to health in the UK.
The worst-case scenario assumes that the Government will not respond to rising cases with another widespread lockdown.
Stephen Holgate, professor of immunopharmacology and honorary consultant physician at the University of Southampton, said: "We need to have a rapid system of monitoring in the UK so we can spot outbreaks when they occur."
Report author Prof Azra Ghani, chair in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said: "Everybody needs to realise that Covid-19 hasn't gone away."
Separate data seen by the Guardian suggests that there are large regional variations in the death rates of patients in intensive care.
The death rate for ICU patients in England and Wales is 39 per cent but at one unnamed trust in the South West, eight in 10 patients had died, while just one in eight had died at the best performing London trust.
THE R RATE SCENARIOS
R rate 1.1 Infections could be expected to rise slightly over the winter and would result in an estimated total number of hospital deaths from September to June 2021 of 1300.
R rate 1.5 Infections would rise gradually with a peak in hospital admissions and deaths projected to occur in January-February, coinciding with a period of peak demand on the NHS. Estimated total number of hospital deaths would be 74,800.
R rate 1.7 Infections could peak in January-February with estimated hospital deaths of 119,900 - more than double the number that occurred during the first wave.