Coronavirus infections could grow "out of control" in the UK with a second spike leading to 120,000 deaths in a "reasonable worst-case scenario", ministers have been warned.
The forecast counts the number of people who could die in hospitals before next June and comes from a report commissioned by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, released by the Academy of Medical Sciences.
The current R number in the UK is 0.7-0.9.
A rising R number would likely see the UK go back into lockdown, given ministers have warned they will reimpose emergency measures if the R rate rises above one.
The 37 scientists and academics behind the report said the peak in hospital admissions and deaths could come in January and February 2021.
Their startling research does not include deaths in the community or care homes – or take into account any extra interventions by the government.
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Professor Azra Ghani, an infectious disease epidemiologist from Imperial College London who worked on the report, told Sky News the findings are "not a prediction" but a "worst-case scenario" that could see the coronavirus outbreak grow "out of control".
"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," she said.
"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. We need the systems to be up and running by September."
Professor Stephen Holgate, a Medical Research Council clinical professor of immunopharmacology who led the study, suggested the risk of the country being hit so hard "could be reduced if we take action immediately".
He called for flu vaccinations for the vulnerable and health and social care workers and upscaling of the "test and trace" programme to ensure a "rapid system of monitoring" to stop local outbreaks.
Richard Vautrey, a GP who chairs the British Medical Association's general practitioners committee, said NHS staff are "very tired" having worked "extremely hard" to battle the pandemic, but are gearing up for a winter that could be "extremely difficult to cope with".
He urged politicians to get the "necessary funding in place", ensure there are enough stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ramp up the test and trace system.
A government spokesperson said the report "represents a worst-case scenario based on no government action, and makes clear this isn't a prediction".
They added: "Thanks to the nation's collective efforts, the virus is being brought undeRead More – Source