The UK needs to act fast to stop coronavirus (Covid-19) cases growing out of control, with a delay of even a few days potentially “dangerous”, according to an academic who advises the government.
Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine, Imperial College London, said a “trickle” of cases can turn into a “cascade”.
Increase in cases in care homes
His comments come as concerns grow over an increase in coronavirus cases in care homes. It’s prompting the government to send an alert to care providers to highlight the rising rates and to call for action.
The letter, which was sent on Friday 11 September, urges care bosses to “take the necessary action to prevent and limit outbreaks”. It points out that in the last three days, there had been an increase in notifications of coronavirus cases in care homes.
At the moment, it is the workforce that’s most affected. But the letter says that “clearly” there’s a risk that the virus will spread to residents, and in some cases already has.
The Sunday Times reported a Department of Health report marked “official sensitive” and circulated on 11 September said that the coronavirus rate recorded through satellite tests – which are used in care homes – had quadrupled since the start of the month.
The newspaper also said that health secretary Matt Hancock was given an emergency update on 9 September saying that outbreaks had been detected in 43 care homes.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:
Throughout our coronavirus response we have been doing everything we can to ensure all staff and residents in care homes are protected.
“We need to act quickly”
Prof Openshaw said if the virus is in care homes, it will inevitably lead to hospital admissions and deaths. He is a member of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG). Speaking on Sky’s Ridge On Sunday, he said:
We know that these are very vulnerable pockets. It’s not just in the younger people, it’s starting to appear in people more vulnerable and that inevitably is going to be followed by hospital admissions and deaths so we need to act quickly.
And this isn’t a game. We shouldn’t be out trying to party as hard as we can in the run up to Monday’s lockdown.
We should all be really thinking about what we can do now to slow down the spread.
Rising number of cases
The concern over care homes comes as almost 3.5k coronavirus cases were recorded overall in the UK for the second day in a row. It’s the first time since mid-May that recorded cases have been above that level on consecutive days.
The government said that as of 9am on Saturday 12 September, there had been a further 3,497 lab-confirmed cases in the UK. There were 3,539 cases recorded on Friday 11 September.
Speaking about the rise in cases, Prof Openshaw said:
I think everyone is in agreement that we really need to act very quickly now in order to prevent this from growing exponentially.
I think that’s the main point is that we must act fast because it’s so much harder to get this sort of thing under control if you delay.
Even a few days is potentially going to be quite dangerous now at this particular moment.
Former chief scientific adviser and member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) Mark Walport has warned that the country is “on the edge of losing control” of coronavirus.
Asked if he thinks Walport is right, Prof Openshaw told Ridge: “Well yes I think that is right”.
Tough new lockdown measures were announced for parts of the UK on 11 September as cases continued to rise and as the R number – the reproduction number of coronavirus transmission – climbed above one.
According to government advisers, the last time R was above one was in early March.
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