Covid: Too late for two-week circuit-break, experts warn amid fears second wave death toll could hit 85,000

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

The UK’s second coronavirus wave is on track to surpass the “reasonable worst case scenario” of 85,000 deaths, experts fear. 

A two-week circuit breaker lockdown, as proposed by advisers back in September, is also no longer considered to be enough to suppress the deadly growth in cases.

It is now believed any national restrictions would have to last considerably longer. 

It comes following the release of more worrying data on the growth of the epidemic, with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) predicting more than 50,000 people are being infected with the virus every day. 

Leaked documents have this week revealed that over summer Sage predicted the UK was on track for 500 deaths per day until the end of March 2021. 

That would mean the death toll could be as high as 85,000, easily surpassing the number of deaths during the first peak during the spring of 2020. 

But the figures from the ONS, alongside a similarly worrying surveillance study from Imperial College London earlier this week, suggest the epidemic has already roughly doubled in size since September.

On Tuesday, the UK recorded 367 deaths over 24 hours, the highest number since the end of May.  

Given the epidemic’s growth over just one month, and the lag in this growth being reflected in hospital data, there is an acceptance among advisers more deaths are inevitable. 

There are even fears we could eclipse 500 deaths a day by the end of November, and from there continue to rise, putting the UK on track to easily surpass Sage's “reasonable worst case scenario”. 

Such fears are compounded by the R number (the rate of infection) also remaining stubbornly above 1 across England, which means the doubling rate of cases is simply set to grow. 

If the UK is to reverse the trend, then the R needs to fall below 1 within a matter of weeks.  

Political Correspondent Shehab Khan says the government is defending its three-tier system of restrictions as the best way to combat Covid, but that they will change tack if that is what the science suggests is best.

The latest statistics will surely put more pressure on Downing Street to introduce stricter lockdown measures, potentially on a national scale. 

Scientific advisers believe it is still too early to tell if the government’s Tier system of restrictions is working. 

Sage first proposed a circuit breaker lockdown in September in the belief it would bring the circulation of the virus down to levels that would allow NHS Test & Trace to be effective in stamping out small outbreaks. 

But there is an acceptance now that the epidemic is too large for a two-week circuit breaker to work.

Coronavirus cases in the UK are continuing to rise. Credit: PA Graphic

Professor James Naismith, Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, said: “Setting up an effective track and trace is an extremely difficult task, with the current level of infections it’s probably impossible. 

"I wish to stress the UK is not alone in this struggle, the virus is spreading rapidly across the EU and the USA , they have also failed to implement effective tracing. 

 “The UK was one of the hardest hit countries in the world in the first wave. 

"It would be particularly tragic if we repeat this experience. 

"These three new surveys all suggest that the number of deaths will continue to climb for in the weeks ahead. 

"These will bring terrible pain to families across the UK.”