'Rough winter’ ahead with Covid set to be joined by seasonal viruses, expert warns

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The UK faces a “rough winter” due to the combination of coronavirus, flu and other respiratory conditions that will make a comeback, a leading expert has said.

Calum Semple, a scientific advisor to the government, said the predicted increase in respiratory illnesses over the winter would mean the "NHS is going to have a really tough time" and suggested face masks may need to be brought back in some regions.

Professor Semple, a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, told BBC Breakfast “it’s not just going to be coronavirus that’s causing us trouble... other seasonal viruses are going to come back.

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“Hand hygiene and social distancing reduced influenza, it got rid of influenza, and many of the other viruses.

“Now that we’re opening up society, we’ve got to… live with not just Covid but the flu will come back, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) bronchiolitis will come back, so I think we’re going to have a bit of a rough winter.”

Asked how Christmas might compare to last year, he said: “I really don’t know… but I can predict that the NHS is going to have a really tough time and it wouldn’t surprise me if local directors of public health may be suggesting use of face masks in shops and on public transport.

“That’s the kind of thing that I would expect – some degree of regional common sense approach. If you see a high amount of virus in Liverpool or Manchester or Birmingham, then it wouldn’t surprise me if there was local leadership in that area.”

Local authorities may encourage people to wear masks again, Calum Semple suggests Credit: Yui Mok/PA

He said the forthcoming Covid-19 booster jab campaign will “make a difference for a few people that are frail and elderly and have high risks, where their immunity might just need a bit of boosting, and it’s to try and give them an extra leg up to protect them”.

The government is to set out its plans for Covid booster jabs as it unveils its blueprint for living with the virus through the winter. The prime minister had been expected to set out details at a Downing Street news conference on Tuesday following a Commons statement by Health Secretary Sajid Javid. However, it is not known if Boris Johnson will still lead the briefing, following the death on Monday of his mother, Charlotte Johnson Wahl.