Covid-19 more likely to spread then as people will spend more time together in enclosed spaces

In reversal, government says it will make masks mandatory in England shops

Britain faces a potentially more deadly second wave of Covid-19 in the coming winter that could kill up to 120,000 people over nine months in a worst-case scenario, health experts said on Tuesday.

With Covid-19 more likely to spread in winter as people spend more time together in enclosed spaces, a second wave of the pandemic “could be more serious than the one we’ve just been through,” said Stephen Holgate, a professor and co-lead author of a report by Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS).

“This is not a prediction, but it is a possibility,” Holgate told an online briefing. “Deaths could be higher with a new wave of Covid-19 this winter, but the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately.”

Britain’s current death toll from confirmed cases of Covid-19 is around 45,000, the highest in Europe.

The AMS said there is a “high degree of uncertainty” about how Britain’s Covid-19 epidemic will evolve, but outlined a “reasonable worst-case scenario” where the reproduction number – or R value – rises to 1.7 from September 2020 onwards.

The R value – the average number of people an infected person will pass a disease on to – is currently between 0.7 and 0.9 in Britain and daily case and death numbers are falling. An R value above 1 can lead to exponential growth.

“The modelling estimates 119,900 hospital deaths between September 2020 and June 2021,” the AMS report said, more than double the number that occurred during the first wave.

AMS vice-president Anne Johnson said a bad winter flu season, combined with large backlog of patients suffering other diseases and chronic conditions, would add to huge pressure on health services – underlining a need to prepare now.

“Covid-19 has not gone away,” she said. “We need to do everything we can to stay healthy this winter.”

Meanwhile, the British government decided on Monday to require people to wear face coverings in shops, joining a long list of countries that have made masks mandatory under some circumstances in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

After weeks of prevarication and days of confused messaging, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government said that masks will be required in stores starting July 24.

Johnson’s office said “growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus”.

Those who flout the law can be fined up to £100 (US$125) by the police under public health laws.

Many European nations, including Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece, already require masks to be worn in enclosed spaces, but Britain had only made masks obligatory on public transit.

Johnson’s government until now recommended – but did not require – mask-wearing in stores. The prime minister, who in the spring spent a week in hospital being treated for Covid-19, was not seen in public in a mask until Friday, when he suggested that the government was considering “stricter” rules for mask use.

The opposition Labour Party questioned on Monday why the new mask measure would not come into force for 11 days. Labour health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth said the government “has been slow and muddled again over face coverings”.

The new requirement only applies to in England. Scotland already made masks mandatory in stores.

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