British scientists say further easing of COVID rules won’t overwhelm healthcare

© Reuters. A woman jogs through Hyde Park amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London

LONDON (Reuters) – The next step in easing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in England is unlikely to put unsustainable pressure on healthcare, even if it spikes a spike in COVID-19 infections, government scientists said on Monday.

However, the scientists said that a resurgence of hospitalizations and deaths at some point is still very likely, although the extent and timing are uncertain.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce later Monday that England can enter Phase 2 of its roadmap without a lock, allowing outdoor hospitality to reopen next week and all retailing to be restarted.

The Emergency Scientific Advisory Group (SAGE), which advises the government, said the move would not overwhelm the state’s National Health Service (NHS), even if infections increased, provided the country’s successful vaccination program stays on track.

“It is very unlikely that a resuscitation of hospital admissions and deaths after Step 2 of the roadmap alone would not put sustained pressure on the NHS,” SAGE said in the minutes of a March 29 meeting released on Monday.

SAGE cited work by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modeling (SPI-M), which looked at models from Imperial College London, Warwick University, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

SPI-M said a new peak could occur in summer or fall and that its timing and size would depend on how people behave after the restrictions end.

Whether England can proceed with steps 3 and 4 of easing lockdown, where formal restrictions on social contact could end in June, depends on the dates that follow each step.

“It is very likely that hospital stays and deaths will increase again after the later steps of the roadmap,” said SPI-M in an article published on Monday.

In most scenarios, each new peak was smaller than January 2021, but more pessimistic assumptions about the reduction in transmission and vaccine effectiveness “may lead to hospital resurrections on a similar scale as January 2021.”

The modeling did not take into account the possible occurrence of variants that escape the vaccine or looser travel rules.

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