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No panic! Ten reasons why a second wave of coronavirus is so much less to fear


With summer now a distant memory, a cloud of doom seems to have returned to these shores.

Yesterday, the UK recorded over 2,400 new Covid-19 cases for the third straight year, increasing the prospect of a terrifying second spike.

While England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam warned that the recent surge in cases was "very important", Health Secretary Matt Hancock was far more blunt.

Pointing to the rise in infections among young people in the UK, he urged them, "Don't kill your gran by catching coronavirus and passing it on."

Indeed, officials fear that a member of the government's emergency science advisory group has even proposed canceling Christmas.

While 40 percent of the test results were positive in April, that number has dropped to just 2.3 percent in the community and 0.5 percent in hospitals (picture in stock).

But before we sink into apocalyptic misery, let's look at science.

Because despite the doom and the darkness, not everything is as bad as it seems, writes John Naish.

As these ten reasons show, all the signs point that the second blow from Covid-19 won't be nearly as bad as the first …

1. The proportion of positive tests has decreased

Yes, more people test positive for Covid-19. But instead of just being the result of a surge in infections, it's also because far more tests are being done now than at the height of the pandemic in April and March.

Back then, only a fraction of seriously ill people were tested, so the early daily numbers of 5,000 new infections were only a fraction of the actual total.

More importantly, as of April, 40 percent of test results were positive, but that number has dropped to just 2.3 percent in the community and 0.5 percent in hospitals.

2. Infections are far less virulent

While cases of Covid-19 have crept in in the UK since early July, death rates among those infected have fallen.

In fact, researchers at Oxford University have found that the percentage of people infected with Covid-19 who die from it has dropped from 6 percent on June 24th to just 1.5 percent on August 5th.

That's a four-fold decrease in less than six weeks. While it may sound stubborn, one explanation is that the virus claimed the most vulnerable victims first, causing a strikingly high initial death rate.

Another reason could be that the coronavirus is spreading in smaller doses thanks to social distancing. This means that people may be less intensely infected and therefore more likely to beat the virus.

As statistician Tim Harford recently wrote on these pages, the prospect of dying from Covid-19 is little more than taking a bath.

3. Deaths are also falling

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), coronavirus deaths no longer add to the overall death rate in England and Wales.

30 more deaths from Covid-19 were reported in the UK yesterday – the largest increase in six weeks. However, according to the ONS for the week ending August 28, there were 599 fewer deaths than the previous week.

Oxford University researchers have found that the percentage of people infected with Covid-19 who die from it has dropped from 6 percent on June 24 to just 1.5 percent on August 5 (archive image)

Oxford University researchers have found that the percentage of people infected with Covid-19 who die from it has dropped from 6 percent on June 24 to just 1.5 percent on August 5 (archive image)

4. We found life-saving drugs

When Covid-19 first hit, doctors around the world had to improvise treatments as scientists looked for a cure.

Early on, many patients were ventilated in the intensive care unit, although this is now viewed as an ineffective and in some cases dangerous treatment.

The good news is that in the past few months, cheap and effective drugs have been discovered in the form of two steroid drugs, dexamethasone and hydrocortisone.

Just last week, a large study showed that treatment with these steroids could save eight lives for every 100 critically ill patients treated – a number their researchers call "impressive".

They do this by effectively calming a patient's immune system that would otherwise be viciously made worse by Covid-19, with potentially fatal consequences.

"At the beginning of the year it sometimes felt almost hopeless to know that we weren't having specific treatments," says Professor Anthony Gordon of Imperial College London. "Less than six months later, we have found clear and reliable evidence in high-quality clinical trials of how we can combat this devastating disease."

5. The virus is shifting to resilient young people

While positive tests in older, more vulnerable generations have declined, rising Covid-19 cases are caused by healthy, resilient people between the ages of teenagers and 20, who, according to official figures, have tripled infection numbers since July.

This means that the number of severe cases should remain low, since younger people are disproportionately often either asymptomatic or have manageable symptoms.

Indeed, says Cambridge University statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter, "In school children aged five to 14, this is not just a tiny risk, it's a tiny fraction of the normal risk."

Of course, any life lost – especially when the victim is young – is tragic. However, we must not ignore the fact that the currently largely infected population group is far better able to survive it.

6. Optimism for a vaccine

When the virus first appeared, scientists warned that it could take years to find a suitable vaccine. To add to fears, early evidence suggested that our bodies may be producing antibodies to Covid-19 for a few months at the most, making vaccinations pointless temporary.

But last week a study in Iceland found that when our bodies are naturally infected with the coronavirus, they produce a long-lasting form of protective antibodies.

Additionally, as of yesterday, six vaccines were in the final stages of testing known as Phase 3 clinical trials – while Russia has already approved another, although scientists are skeptical that adequate safety procedures have been followed.

Crucially, vaccine researchers at Oxford University made the breakthrough. Kate Bingham, Chair of the UK Vaccine Task Force, said, "I think we have a chance to get a vaccine this year."

7. We are smarter and better prepared

The UK is far better prepared for a new wave of Covid-19 infections than it was in March. The NHS hospitals have been restructured to deal with infectious patients.

After the rapid construction of the so-called Nightingale hospitals, many of which were largely unused and have now been “hibernated”, Great Britain is over-prepared for a second increase.

8. The public army is there

While much of the government's original Covid-19 guidelines have been criticized as unclear, the vast majority of the UK is now helping to keep the virus from spreading through a combination of social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing.

If these prevention strategies are practiced consistently and consistently, future spreads of Covid-19 will be limited.

9. The initial fears were unfounded

At the height of the pandemic in March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson presented a now much ridiculed paper published by Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College claiming 500,000 people in the UK could die from Covid-19.

The current UK death toll stands at 41,586. Yes, it's still a high number. But it is a far cry from the apocalyptic figure first discussed by the government.

10. We can use local locks

Of course, the introduction of regional locks after localized peaks has proven to be largely unpopular with those affected. However, it appears that they are a powerful tool in the UK anti-Covid arsenal.

Just yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the local lockdown in Leicester had resulted in a "very significant" decline in cases and measures there will be reviewed on Thursday.

With their successful implementation, there is every chance that we can prevent the virus from spreading from region to region.

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