Should we be worried about a Christmas lockdown in the UK amid Europe Covid wave?

The Netherlands and Austria are going back into lockdowns. Scientists in the UK are divided about the Europe Covid wave, ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers reports

Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Ann Yip

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested he is worried a "wave" of Covid-19 infections in Europe could affect the UK.

Austria and the Netherlands - where cases have been rising rapidly - announced on Friday there would be partial lockdowns.

Germany has also had a steep rise in cases, with more than 48,000 new infections recorded in 24 hours.

Mr Johnson has urged the public to get their booster jabs in order to combat the rise in cases being felt in other parts of the continent.

The rise in infections in Europe comes at a time when Brits are starting to attend Christmas-dos and prepare for the festive season.

So how worried should we be about Covid encroaching on our festivities this year? ITV News asked epidemiologists what they thought.

Will infections rise in the UK?

Maybe. But experts are not expecting any significant rise like what we saw in June and July.

Matt Keeling, who has been leading the Covid-19 research at Warwick University, said the UK will likely experience more imports of infection as a result of the Europe wave.

But he said "most infection is 'home grown' with imports only contributing a tiny fraction".

Austrian police checking restaurant diners have had their jabs as country goes into partial lockdown. Credit: ITV News

Although he admitted the trend in Europe is "worrying", he says there is currently nothing to suggest Christmas is cancelled.

Modelling published by the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) suggests cases and hospital admissions could fall in the next couple of months, he said.

But he warned: "These are only projections and are conditional on a number of assumptions - most notably that people don't dramatically change their behaviour, and that there is good uptake of the booster jabs."

Prof Keeling and Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia's Norwich Medical School, both agree the wave in Europe is not new, explaining the UK has been leading the wave since summer.

Prof Hunter said: "The UK has been living through this wave since August with a pre-wave that happened in June/July around the Euros football championships. So, we have already gone through this wave and have greater immunity as a result.

"That doesn’t mean to say we will not see further rises in the UK, just not as dramatic as is currently being seen in Europe, and that is because immunity wanes.

"So the European wave is them catching up with us."

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He believes the main reason why cases are rising in Europe is the waning immunity from vaccines, similar to what the UK went through in summer.

Prof Hunter, who has been studying the epidemiology of emerging infectious disease, says the rise in cases in Europe is to be expected as an epidemic infection becomes endemic.

He said the UK and other European countries will reach what is called an "endemic equilibrium" - when infections start to stabilise, with some ups and downs "for a year or so"

New Covid cases reported by day in the UK. Credit: UK Gov

Will there be more Covid controls? Will Christmas be affected?

Epidemiologist Deepti Gurdasani, of Queen Mary University of London, suggested the government should be thinking about further Covid controls now.

She told ITV News: "We're looking at Europe and seeing countries respond as they should to rising cases, whereas in England the narrative seems to be: yes, we're happy with 40,000 cases a day.

"We need to be acting yesterday, not tomorrow."

Epidemiologist Deepti Gurdasani suggests the government should be thinking about bringing in further Covid controls

Warwick University's Prof Keeling said it's hard to say how Christmas might be affected but pointed out the NHS is "under huge pressure each winter; Covid cases and the backlog from the past 20 months will only add to this pressure".

He said anything the public can do to mitigate demand for health services would be extremely beneficial.

He added: "We can always think up scenarios in which extra controls may be needed - which could range from a sudden jump in hospital admissions or the arrival of a new variant.

"However, it's very much 'wait and see' - if this pandemic has taught us one thing it's that very detailed long-term predictions are impossible - we can project the general trends but not the details, and there are always surprises."

Should people hold and attend Christmas parties this year?

Prof Keeling said this is "very much a personal judgment, and it's up to everyone to balance the risk and benefits".

But he advised people to take precautions, warning that "the combination of Christmas parties followed by large family gatherings could lead to high levels of infection which is then passed to the elderly and vulnerable".

Some precautions people can take are getting their vaccines (including booster jabs), regular lateral flow testing and good ventilation and use of masks indoors, he said.

The epidemiologist said: "At the moment there is no reason to think that Christmas will be 'cancelled', but we should all continue to protect the vulnerable and elderly around us - not just from Covid but from 'flu and other respiratory infections.

"No one wants to give family or friends Covid for Christmas."