Despite the ‘R’ rate – the rate of infection – for coronavirus in parts of England slowly creeping up, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated the country could be close to some sense of normality by Christmas following lockdowns across the entire planet. In a speech today, Mr Johnson said: “It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas. “If we continue to pull together, as we have done so far, I know we can beat this virus: hoping for the best, but planning for the worst, and it’s in that spirit that we must carry on waging this long, hard fight against coronavirus.”
However, experts have continuously warned about the very real threat of a second wave of COVID-19 if restrictions are eased too quickly.
While it is extremely difficult for scientists to accurately predict the future of COVID-19, with it still being a very fresh outbreak, the general consensus is a second wave will come – and much like seasonal flu, the cold temperatures of winter could provide to perfect breeding ground for the disease.
Even Mr Johnson conceded the UK could be hit by a second wave, stating: “Demand for testing is not the only challenge that winter will bring. It’s possible that the virus will be more virulent in the winter months and it’s certain that the NHS will face the usual annual winter pressures.”
The current R rate for the whole of the UK is between 0.7 and 0.9, but Mr Johnson will be aware this situation could change quickly, for better or for worse.
A recent report in the Academy of Medical Sciences did warn that as the winter approaches, the infection rate could be back on the rise.
Professor Azra Ghani, an infectious disease epidemiologist from Imperial College London who worked on the report, told Sky News: “As we move into winter, the weather gets worse, people stay indoors more, windows aren’t open so the likelihood of transmission does of course increase.
“We also have all sorts of other pressures on the NHS that increase during the winter and therefore extra admissions into hospitals.
“It’s all of these things coupled together that could cause this worst-case scenario.”
Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths, senior research fellow and lecturer in mathematical modelling, at University College London, also said the need for local lockdowns will be key in foiling a second wave.
She wrote for The Conversation: “Crucially, while we should keep track of R in different locations and from one week to the next, we also need to be wary of the fact it becomes less reliable as the epidemic slows down.
“A slightly higher R number may not necessarily mean a second wave is coming right now or that recent easing of the lockdown must be reversed.