A leading scientist linked with the UK’s decision to go into a complete stay-at-home lockdown during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic last year on Wednesday warned that new data modelling suggests there is a risk of a “substantial third wave” of the coronavirus in the country.
Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist from Imperial College London, said the estimate for the R number – or the rate of infection – for the Delta variant of concern (VOC) is between 1.5 and 1.6. This means for every 10 people who get the strain, another 15 or 16 people will contract it.
The modelling came as the UK recorded another 7,540 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period on Wednesday, the highest since the end of February.
“Basically [the modelling] is saying there is a risk of a substantial third wave, (but) we cannot be definitive about the scale of that – it could be substantially lower than the second wave or it could be of the same order of magnitude,” professor Ferguson told reporters.
“That, critically, depends on how effective the vaccines still are protecting people against hospitalisation and death against the Delta variant, as well as a few other unknowns. The key issue is how long will it keep on doubling, because we are starting at a very low level and we have a lot of immunity in the population from vaccination and from people being infected in the past,” he said.
The scientist also said that delaying the June 21 complete unlocking would allow for “more people to get second doses” of vaccines, as the modelling suggests benefits to “getting more vaccines into more arms as it reduces the scale of any third wave”.
It comes as the government continues to weigh up the data in order to make an announcement on the next stage in the lockdown roadmap by Monday.
Meanwhile, the National Health Service (NHS) declared another milestone in its vaccination programme with more than 1 million bookings for a Covid-19 vaccine through the NHS website on Tuesday. It marks a record high figure and the first time daily appointments booked through the national booking service have topped the million mark.
As eligibility extended to people aged 25 to 29 on Tuesday morning, a total of 1,082,596 first and second dose slots were snapped up across the day online and by phone, around 45,000 an hour on average and more than 750 every minute, over the full 24 hours.
“The Covid-19 vaccine is still the best protection against coronavirus and as further supplies become available to us week by week it’s great that we’ve seen 25 to 29 year olds sending bookings to blockbuster levels, following hard on the heels of the millions of others,” said Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive.
“Hitting 1 million bookings in a day sends a fantastic signal that getting the Covid-19 vaccine is something that all of us – no matter our age – can value and be excited by and most importantly should get, when our opportunity comes,” said Dr Emily Lawson, lead for the NHS Covid Vaccination Programme.
Meanwhile, coronavirus vaccines and tests are being stepped up in hotspot areas of north-west England to try to deal with the rise in cases of the Delta variant – the highly transmissible VOC first detected in India. Local leaders have asked for extra vaccine doses to vaccinate everyone even faster.