The coronavirus epidemic in the UK could last until spring 2021 and see nearly 8 million people being hospitalized, according to a secret briefing for senior National Health Service (NHS) officials by Public Health England (PHE).
The document, seen by The Guardian newspaper, shows public health officials expect the virus to be present in the country for at least another 12 months. It was drawn up over the last few days by PHE’s emergency preparedness and response team and approved as accurate by Dr. Susan Hopkins, PHE’s lead official dealing with the outbreak, according to the publication.
It has been shared with hospital bosses and senior doctors in the NHS in England and warns “as many as 80 percent of the population are expected to be infected with COVID-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15 percent (7.9 million people) may require hospitalization.”
Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical adviser to the UK’s government, had previously described 80 percent as a worst-case scenario, rather than an expected outcome.
East Anglia University medicine professor Paul Hunter said, “For the public to hear that it could last for 12 months, people are going to be really upset about that and pretty worried about that.”
“A year is entirely plausible. But that figure isn’t well appreciated or understood. I think it will dip in the summer, toward the end of June, and come back in November, in the way that usual seasonal flu does. I think it will be around forever, but become less severe over time, as immunity builds up.”
The document also projects that about 500,000 of the 5 million workers deemed “vital” because they work “in essential services and critical infrastructure,” will also be off work sick at one time during a month-long peak of the epidemic. These include 1 million NHS staff and 1.5 million in social care.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed on Monday that 53 people in the UK had died from the disease and called it “the most serious public health emergency that our nation has faced for a generation,” adding that the government will “give the NHS whatever it needs,” to help tackle the virus.
As of Monday, 44,105 people have been tested in the UK, of which 42,562 were confirmed negative and 1,543 were confirmed as positive, according to the Department of Health.