Schools could close again if tier system fails to halt spread of Covid-19, experts warns

The government may be forced to close schools to older children if coronavirus cases continue to increase at the current rate, an expert has warned.

Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the original coronavirus lockdown in March, said the NHS would soon be unable to cope unless the spread of the disease was stemmed.

He said there were currently 8,000 people in hospital with coronavirus – around a third of the peak earlier this year – and that numbers were continuing to rise.

“It is a worrying situation,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“If the rate of growth continues as it is it means that in a month’s time we will above that peak level in March and that is probably unsustainable.

“We are in a critical time right now. The health system will not be able to cope with this rate of growth for much longer.”

Prof Ferguson said it would be another week or two before it became clear whether the current stricter measures would have an impact on case numbers.

He said the restrictions on households mixing should have a “significant effect”, but added it may not be enough and further action may be needed.

“If we go beyond that there is a limit to what we can do in terms of reducing contacts, short of starting to target, for instance, the older years in schools and sixth form colleges where we know older teenagers are able to transmit as adults.

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“Of course, nobody wants to start moving to virtual education and closing schools even partially. The challenge may be that we are not able to get on top of the transmission otherwise.”

Professor Ferguson said it will be a “political judgment” whether restrictions on households mixing should be relaxed over Christmas.

“It risks some transmission and there will be consequences of that. Some people will die because of getting infected on that day,” he added.

“But if it is only one or two days the impact is likely to be limited. So that is really a political judgment about the cost versus the benefits.”