Coronavirus may double over Christmas and more deaths are ‘highly likely’, SAGE experts warn
Rules are being relaxed to allow ‘bubbles’ over Christmas (Image: Getty Images)
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Coronavirus could “easily double” over Christmas and more deaths are “highly likely”, scientific experts have warned.
Grim SAGE papers show the government’s advisors are braced for cases to rocket under the five-day truce announced this week.
Under the new rules, up to three households can create a one-off ‘Christmas bubble’ for five days from December 23-27.
But experts warned: “Any relaxation over festive period will result in increased transmission and increased prevalence, potentially by a large amount.”
Even under the special rules, one top advisor said: “This is a spreading event. You can’t avoid that."
Boris Johnson announced the new system earlier this week
(Image: POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
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The guidance has emerged in SAGE papers from earlier this month, which advised the government on how rules might be relaxed.
The scientists said a fixed bubble system – like the government has created – would reduce the risk but not eliminate it.
Notes from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, dated November 19, said: “The prevalence could easily double during a few days of festive season.”
The document was described as early work from several individual scientists.
The same group’s consensus statement in the same week warned a rise in deaths was “highly likely” if "contact patterns change" – something that is planned.
It said: “It is highly likely that an increase in prevalence will occur during the festive period if contact patterns change and increase, which will inevitably lead to a rise in hospital admissions and deaths.”
Boris Johnson confirmed families would be allowed to gather on Christmas, admitting they were “frankly going to do (it) anyway.”
But Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned people shouldn’t hug elderly relatives if they “want to survive to be hugged again”.
Bubbles can travel from anywhere in the UK to see each other and gather in private homes, places of worship and parks.
All travelling must be complete within the five day window, except for Northern Ireland which has a day's grace either side.
And each Christmas bubble must “fixed” and exclusive – no one can be in more than one Christmas bubble.
SAGE experts said a bubble system like the one announced would “reduce the risk”, but “faithfulness to bubbles is paramount.”
Experts said Covid rates must get “as low as possible” before Christmas to stop the “NHS being overwhelmed in the New Year”.
And they said younger people “should ideally reduce their levels of social contact” before the festive break”.
This would “minimise the risk that they infect older relatives”, SAGE said.
Government guidance advises people to avoid unnecessary socialising for two weeks before and after Christmas.
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SPI-M-O also suggested mass testing could be “targeted” at younger people who are less likely to show symptoms before Christmas.
The government does not appear to have taken up this policy.
“People should understand that there is risk in visiting their older loved ones,” one document said.
“Those risks can be decreased by minimising other contacts in the week preceding a visit.
“Socialising before seeing older relatives is more risky than doing so afterwards.”
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SAGE previously modelled that every day of Christmas relaxation could need five days of lockdown. But it’s understood this depends on how much people relax and could be as little as one to three days.
SAGE did not model how many people might catch coronavirus or die due to the Christmas break.
But they said it “presents a significant risk of increased transmission and increased prevalence, potentially by a large amount”.
The experts emphasised the break couldn’t be longer than five days because that is one “generation” of the infection.
They also emphasised that bubbles must be fixed and exclusive, meaning people must not move from one to the next.