Coronavirus UK: NHS chief admits it’s time hospitals ‘learn to live with Covid’

It is time for hospitals to 'learn to live with Covid', NHS England's medical director Stephen Powis said today

It is time for hospitals to 'learn to live with Covid', NHS England's medical director Stephen Powis said today

It is time for hospitals to ‘learn to live with Covid’, NHS England’s medical director Stephen Powis said today

It is time for the NHS to ‘learn to live with Covid’, one of the health service’s most senior doctors admitted today as he backed Freedom Day going ahead on July 19.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director, said that he anticipates Covid hospital admissions will start to rise when lockdown is lifted in a fortnight and as the country moves into winter.

But he insisted that NHS trusts ‘will manage’ now that the vaccines have reduced Covid to a mild illness for the vast majority of people, claiming that hospitals were ‘well used to coping’ with winter pressures each year.

Professor Powis, who has been a regular at the podium of No10’s Covid press conferences through the pandemic, told BBC Breakfast: ‘We will have to learn to live with Covid now and that is what the NHS is preparing to do.’

He added: ‘The NHS deals with pressures all the time and there is not doubt that as hospital numbers rise over the next few weeks that we will have to manage that pressure.

‘A&Es are busy again as life gets back to normal but we’re well used to coping with pressures, we do it every year and every winter. So we are prepared and, as you have seen over the last 18 months of the pandemic, the NHS will manage.’

There has been some concern about the unlocking later this month because Covid cases are still climbing fast, with almost 25,000 tests coming back positive every day, 10 times the amount two months ago.

But in a clear sign of the ‘vaccine effect’, there are only about 270 daily hospital admissions now compared to 2,800 in early February, the last time infections were this high.   

Professor Powis’ comments come as the Government and its advisers try to prepare Britons for a post-lockdown world. 

Boris Johnson is due to outline exactly what that will look like at a 5pm press conference today, where he’s expected to urge people to use their own judgement to manage the risk of Covid instead of relying on official rules. 

1. Matching 2nd wave cases to 3rd wave, increase is identical

1. Matching 2nd wave cases to 3rd wave, increase is identical

4. ...and even more crucially, it¿s now so different for deaths too

4. ...and even more crucially, it¿s now so different for deaths too

The vaccine rollout has broken the link between Covid infections (left) and deaths (right). Despite infections soaring to levels on par with the second wave, fatalities have remained almost completely flat

2. ...back then, hospital admissions soared ¿ now they¿re almost flat...

2. ...back then, hospital admissions soared ¿ now they¿re almost flat...

3. ...the story is the same for the number of patients in hospital...

3. ...the story is the same for the number of patients in hospital...

The power if the vaccines has also meant that hospital admissions are running at a tenth of level at the same time at the start of the second wave (left) and kept the NHS at manageable occupancy (right) 

Mandatory mask-wearing is expected to be ditched everywhere except in hospitals and other health facilities when the remaining curbs are lifted in England on July 19.

Mr Johnson will also confirm an end to the two metre social distancing rule, while pubs and other venues will not have to collect customer details and will again be able to serve drinks at the bar for the first time since the pandemic began. 

One of the main justifications for locking down during the pandemic was to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed.

Covid will be more like the common cold than flu and will reach ‘equilibrium’ in a ‘very few years’, say scientists 

Covid will become more like a common cold than flu and reach an ‘equilibrium’ in the population within a few years, top scientists believe.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said the virus will ‘not cause the disease we have come to recognise over the past year’ because so many will be protected, through vaccination or  previous infection.

Britain’s jab rollout has already made Covid less severe for millions of people, slashing the risk of death to fewer than one in 1,000 now compared to around one in 100 in the second wave of the pandemic.

And because the virus will be endemic, meaning it will never be eradicated, people will gradually build-up natural immunity and symptoms will eventually ‘resemble that of a common cold’, Professor Hunter suggested. 

He added the coronavirus was likely to reach a stable point over the next few years, where it would continue to spread but cause barely any deaths or severe illness. 

Four other coronaviruses infect people repeatedly during their lives — but normally only trigger symptoms similar to the common cold. 

Covid-tracking researchers say the disease has already started to morph into a ‘bad cold’, causing a runny nose, headache and sneezing.    

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The fear was that an uncontrollable level of Covid in hospitals would restrict patients with other deadly conditions from accessing basic care.

But the vaccine rollout has meant that just one in 1,000 patients catching the virus now die from it, compared to one in 100 in previous waves. 

Top scientists have said Covid is already behaving like a ‘bad cold’ now, with the disease expected to get more milder in the future as more people get vaccinated or build up natural immunity.

Despite backing the July 19 date, Professor Powis said that people should still follow the good ‘habits’ learned during the pandemic stick around as the country learns to live with the virus. 

He told BBC Breakfast this morning that people should continue to wash their hands frequently and avoid others and work from home when they feel unwell.

Not only will this tame Covid, it will also ‘keep other infections under control’, Professor Powis added. 

There is no need for everyone to continue wearing face masks, but it would be ‘very appropriate’ for vulnerable and elderly people to do so, particularly if infection rates spike again. 

Asked if he would still voluntarily wear a mask, he told BBC Breakfast: ‘I’ll be following the guidance as I have throughout.

‘There may be occasions in the next few months in a crowded environment where I might choose to wear a mask and I’m sure others will make similar choices.

‘I think people have gotten very aware of infection control and good hygiene over the last 16 months.

‘Some of the habits we’ve developed – washing hands more frequently, not going to work or not going to see people if you are feeling unwell – those are habits that it would be really great to continue because it will keep Covid under control, but also other infections as well. 

‘Many people will use common sense and if they want to be cautious, particularly over the next few weeks as infection rates are still high, then wearing a mask would be very appropriate.’

He said cases will keep going up over the next few weeks and hospital admissions are expected to rise ‘modestly’.

‘But as I say, at the moment, things are looking very good. The analysis that public health officials are doing show the effectiveness of the vaccine and that of course underlines the need to get as many people vaccinated as possible,’ he added.

Across the UK, nearly 45.3million people have had their first dose, while 33.6million have had their second.

 

 

Time for the bar! From table service to working from home, those changing rules 

Boris Johnson is to declare an end to most lockdown restrictions from July 19 today, with social distancing rules, the work from home order, and mask mandates to be ditched as he will argue that we must learn to live with coronavirus as we do with the flu.

The Prime Minister will use a press conference this afternoon to confirm a bonfire of virus rules and restrictions from the so-called Freedom Day later this month, in which he will say that individuals will again be able to judge the risks of coronavirus for themselves. 

PUBS AND RESTAURANTS

Hospitality venues in England will no longer be required to collect track and trace data from July 19. Businesses won’t have to ask customers to scan a QR code using the NHS phone app on entry or to hand over their contact details, although they will have the option of continuing to do so if they wish. Mandatory table service rules will also be scrapped, meaning drinkers will be able to order at the bar again in pubs.

MASKS

Wearing masks will become voluntary everywhere apart from hospitals and other health facilities from July 19 in England. Public transport passengers, shoppers and those visiting pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres will no longer be required by law to cover up. However, people may still be encouraged to wear masks in some enclosed places where they come into close contact with each other, for example on London Tube trains.

HOLIDAYS

Double-jabbed Britons will be allowed to enjoy a foreign break without having to isolate when they return to England. People who have had both vaccine doses will no longer have to quarantine for ten days after visiting amber list countries, such as Spain, France and Greece. It is possible the change to the travel rules will come into force on July 19, but Government sources last night cautioned that this date is seen as ‘ambitious’.

TEST AND TRACE

People in England who have received both coronavirus vaccine doses will no longer have to isolate at home for ten days if they have come into contact with someone who tests positive. They will be offered lateral flow tests to do themselves at home instead, although these will not be compulsory. The change could come into force on July 19, although the date has not yet been finalised.

SCHOOLS

The bubbles system that has seen whole classes or year groups sent home if just one pupil tests positive for coronavirus will be scrapped in England. Ministers are planning to announce a new way of handling outbreaks ready for the new school year in September. Instead of sending children home en masse, those who have come into contact with a positive case are likely to be given daily tests.

WORK FROM HOME

The official guidance telling people to ‘work from home if you can’ will be scrapped on July 19 in England. But it will be left up to employers and their staff to decide whether they have to go back to their desks. Ministers will not launch a campaign encouraging staff back to the office and are resigned to there not being a mass return to workplaces this summer.

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Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which played a key role in developing AstraZeneca’s coronavirus jab, also said today that he not stop wearing face coverings completely.

He told BBC 4’s Today programme: ‘I will continue to wear a mask in some situations, but I think again, it’s a question of what does the data show us when we get further through the year.’  

Asked about whether the plans to ease restrictions in two weeks was a good idea, he said: ‘Well we don’t quite know what happens next and I think that uncertainty is why you are seeing debate between scientists about what the right thing to do is or not. 

‘We are in a position at the moment where there are unvaccinated people in those risk groups, so the absolute priority is we need to make sure there’s access and we need to find out who those individuals are to protect them. 

‘Because the virus is spreading in the community and will continue to do so. And the people at greatest risk over this summer is going to be anyone who is unvaccinated and in a risk group, so particularly older adults and those with other health conditions.’    

Over the last few weeks, the Prime Minister and his ministers have repeated calls for the country to learn to live with Covid ‘as we already do with flu’.

Later today, Mr Johnson will announce plans to move the onus of Covid precautions onto individuals, rather than mandatory measures.

Robert Jenrick, Housing Secretary, told Sky News yesterday: ‘We are now going to move into a period where there won’t be legal restrictions – the state won’t be telling you what to do – but you will want to exercise a degree of personal responsibility and judgement.’

Under the blueprint, hospitality venues will no longer have to record track and trace information from customers, but can continue to do this if they choose to.

Customers will also be able to go to the bar to order, with strict table service measures coming to an end.

People returning from a holiday abroad in an amber country, who have received both jabs, may no longer have to isolate for 10 days.

Those who have had both vaccines may not need to isolate at home if they had contact with someone who has the virus. 

But these changes to isolation rules may come into force after July 19.

Mr Johnson is also expected to outline a new approach to Covid in schools from the beginning of the school year in September. 

The current approach has been criticised, with hundreds of thousands of pupils being forced to stay at home because just one classmate tests positive.

The Prime Minister will also announce a change to work from home rules, with companies being permitted to decide whether their staff will be returning to the office.

Meanwhile, top scientists have said they expect Covid to become more mild than even the flu in the coming years.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said the virus will ‘not cause the disease we have come to recognise over the past year’ because so many will be protected, through vaccination or previous infection.

He told The Times: ‘It will be like a coronavirus, and we already have four endemic coronaviruses that have been part of human society for over a century.’

He added: ‘It will not cause the disease we have come to recognise over the past year, but more and more resemble the common cold.

‘The virus and ourselves will find an equilibrium and that equilibrium within a very few years will not include many severe cases or deaths.’

Professor Hunter also said Britain should brace itself for a ‘winter surge’ in Covid hospitalisations and deaths.

Although, he said it would be ‘considerably less than [from] seasonal influenza’ — which is more intense than a cold.

Colds often clear within days and cause little more than a runny nose.

But flu — which kills around 20,000 Brits every year — can quickly progress into pneumonia. 

Flu admissions are expected to spike this winter because very few people currently have any immunity against it, mainly due to Covid lockdowns thwarting the spread of all viruses.   

But the annual flu inoculation drive will still be going ahead to combat this. 

King’s College London epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector said last week that Covid was now like a ‘bad cold’ thanks to the inoculation drive.

The leader of Britain’s largest symptom-tracking study said: ‘While rates of Covid infection are high, it’s reassuring to see vaccinations protecting the vulnerable and deaths remain very low.

‘ZOE Covid study data shows symptoms are more mild and are similar to those of a bad cold, with a runny nose, headache and a sore throat among the top symptoms for all groups.

‘Sneezing has also emerged as a symptom among partially and fully vaccinated people.’

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