UK may face second wave of Covid-19 in winter: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on August 05, 2020

Could be twice as big as first; can be avoided with wider testing, shows modelling study

The United Kingdom may face a second wave of the novel coronavirus which will be 2 to 2.3 times the size of the original Covid-19 wave due to insufficient test-trace-isolate, as per the modelling study co-led by researchers at UCL and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

The study provides the first estimates on the levels of test-trace-isolate coverage needed for schools and the wider society to reopen while avoiding a second epidemic wave in the UK.

Using workplace, community, demographic and epidemiological data, the authors modelled six different scenarios of school reopening. Alongside school reopening, the model included the relaxation of measures across society, which they assumed would accompany one another.

For each scenario, they estimated the number of new infections and deaths, as well as the effective reproduction number (R).

The results of the modelling suggest a second wave in the UK can be avoided with increased levels of testing and effective contact tracing and isolation.

For effective contact tracing and isolation, assuming 68 per cent of contacts could be traced, 75 per cent of individuals with symptomatic infection would need to be diagnosed and isolated if schools return full-time in September, or 65 per cent if a part-time rota system were used.

If only 40 per cent of contacts could be traced, these figures would need to increase to 87 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.

The authors caution that the second wave could result in the reproduction number rising above 1 and a resulting secondary wave of infections 2 to 2.3 times the size of the original Covid-19 wave.

Co-senior author Professor Chris Bonell, Professor of Public Health Sociology at LSHTM, who advised on the scenarios and interpreted the results, said in the study: “Our study should not be used to keep schools shut because of a fear of a second wave but as a loud call to action to improve the infection control measures and test and trace system so we can get children back to school without interrupting their learning again for extended periods of time. This is even more important in the context of opening up other areas of society.”

Dr Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths, UCL/Oxford, who led the study, said: “Our modelling suggests that with a highly effective test and trace strategy in place across the UK, it is possible for schools to reopen safely in September.”

She added: “However, without sufficient coverage of a test-trace-isolate strategy, the UK risks a serious second epidemic peak either in December or February. Therefore, we urge the government to ensure that the test-trace-isolate capacity is scaled up to a sufficient level before schools reopen.”

Published on August 05, 2020

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