U.K.’s Final Easing Step Could Lead to Covid Surge, Advisers Say

The final step in the U.K.’s plan to reduce Covid-19 restrictions could lead to a surge in infections and deaths that would rival the country’s first wave, government advisers said in a report.

Step 4 of the U.K.’s road map for easing pandemic restrictions, in which most limits on social contact would be removed, might lead to a situation at least as severe as the country’s post-holiday surge in January, researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said in advice to the government that they cautioned was preliminary. Step 4 is seen coming no earlier than June 21.

The country’s next easing move that’s scheduled for April 12 will also likely lead to a small surge of Covid-19 cases and deaths, although it wouldn’t threaten to overwhelm health services, according to the U.K.’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. This phase, Step 2, involves some limited opening of businesses and public places, including pubs.

U.K. cases and deaths have been falling as the country’s reproductive rate -- the number of people each infected person passes the virus to -- has dropped below 1, putting Prime Minister Boris Johnson under pressure to ease restrictions on businesses and social contact.

The government’s plan is highly dependent on the use of vaccines made by AstraZeneca Plc and the partnership of Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE to keep the pandemic under control. According to the report to the U.K.’s SAGE, however, the vaccine rollout alone is probably insufficient to keep case numbers from growing.

The country would see a third wave of Covid hospital admissions and deaths peaking in late July to early August if Steps 3 and 4 of the government’s road map are deployed, according to the report dated March 31.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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