New surge ‘may be sufficient to overwhelm NHS’, especialistas alertam
Scientists in the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), which advises Boris Johnson’s government, met last week to discuss the impact of the new variant in the UK.
“We cannot exclude that this wave would be of a magnitude similar, or even larger, than previous waves,” the advisers stated in minutes from the 25 November meeting.
In a stark warning for the NHS, they said “a large wave of infections will be accompanied by a wave of severe cases, and the subgroup cannot rule out that this may be sufficient to overwhelm NHS capacity.”
The experts also called for “early and robust actions” to limit the transmission of the variant first detected in South Africa in the UK.
It follows leaked minutes from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (sábio) which warned that omicron could see a “very large wave” of infections in the UK and may need tougher restrictions to protect the NHS.
The Sage warning added: “This would in turn lead to a potentially high number of hospitalisations even with protection against severe disease being less affected.”
Although the top scientists remain unsure how big a wave of omicron infection might be, Sage advisers warned that a “very stringent response measures” may be needed from Downing Street.
Não 10 said ministers make “balanced” judgements on scientific advice received after the leaked Sage papers suggested testing people for Covid before they travel to the UK would be “valuable”.
Asked if the government had ignored the guidance, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “At all times we take account of any clinical advice we receive, and then we need to make a balanced judgement on what is right.”
Labour said the lack of pre-departure testing for those flying to the UK from abroad was an “obvious gap in the country’s defences” against the Omicron variant – demanding “strong action at the border now”.
Não 10 was also challenged on whether it was now government policy that party-goers take a lateral flow test before events, after health secretary Sajid Javid earlier suggested that people could take a test before attending parties.
The PM’s official spokesman said: “I think he was very clear about what he was saying. He was setting out that we do have a significant testing capacity, and if people wanted further reassurance they could use that.”
Results of detailed laboratory studies on omicron are expected in the coming weeks, but both Sage and Nervtag groups have warned it is likely the new variant can escape immunity from existing vaccines “to some extent”.
The Nervtag advisers said mutations observed in the variant “include some that are known to be associated with enhanced transmissibility” and are also “highly likely to result in reduced neutralising ability of antibodies”.