Coronavirus second wave could see 3m people in England infected, expert claims

A leading virologist claims a second Covid wave could infect 3 million people in England if it matches the estimates from the pandemic's peak.

Paul Kellam PhD, Vice-President of infectious diseases and vaccines at Kymab Ltd, told Daily Star Online that unfounded social media rumours coronavirus is "less deadly" than flu are nonsense and we should be prepared for a rough winter.

For instance, he says at its worse flu can cause up to 20,000 excess deaths in a season, but the last wave of coronavirus killed more than 40,000 people, despite only a small proportion of Brits getting infected.

Prof Kellam, who lectures in virology at Imperial College London, estimated that at least the same number of people could be infected in the second wave – around 3 million.

He said: "In terms of the number of people that will be infected in the second wave, well, if it’s about the size of the first wave then we know that in the country as a whole, about 8% of people became infected, in large cities like London then it was about 15-17%.

"…I think we estimate about 3 million people in total probably had the infection.

"That’s the sort of scale and around about that – 5-10% of the population."

Prof Kellman reached his estimate by using a survey run by the Office for National Statistics, which estimated anywhere between 2.3m people and 3.2m people have been infected in the past.

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The UK’s top statistics expert, Sir Ian Diamond, also said in June that between 5% and 7% of people in England had likely had the virus – meaning any figure between 2.75 million and 3.8m is plausible.

And a Public Health England (PHE) report published in the same month – based on 8,000 people – said the rate of past infection was 8.5%. If correct, that would mean 4.76m had it, but PHE admitted that could be as high as 10% (5.6m) or as low as 6.9% (3.8m)

Despite these gloomy figures, Prof Kellam is optimistic about the fatality rate, saying that we are much more knowledgable about how to treat the virus than we were six months ago.

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"We don’t know really know what the case fatality will be, it was about 40 to 50% of people on ventilators but we know a lot more about the disease now and we have things like intravenous steroids for starting to fight some of the lung disease and so we hope that the case fatality rate will be a lot less for people on ventilators," he said.

Despite being significantly less deadly than Covid-19, flu will cause a headache for the health service in winter because it shares so many symptoms with the virus.

This will put a strain on testing – people who have a fever from suspected flu would still have to self-isolate and test for Covid-19 – which is one of the reasons why the government is boosting the flu vaccination scheme this winter, with more people than ever being offered the jab for free.

As he points out, the NHS "runs close to its limit" every single winter and the double-whammy of coronavirus and flu will be a terrible burden unless we take action.

Prof Kellam explained: "The UK’s plans are to vaccinate everybody in risk groups, and the groups are not dissimilar to the one from SARS, people with underlying co-morbidity health conditions, particularly in lungs, people with diabetes, and the old.

"But this time we have tried to purchase more flu vaccine and the aim is to offer those to everyone more than 50 years old."

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