UK could end up worst hit by coronavirus in Europe, expert warns

The UK could end up being the worst hit country in Europe at the hands of coronavirus, a member of the Government’s advisory board has warned.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, who is also director of research-charity the Wellcome Trust, was speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning.

He said: “Numbers in the UK have continued to go up.

“And yes, the UK is likely to be certainly one of the worst, if not the worst affected country in Europe.”

Sir Jeremy Farrar. Photo: BBCSir Jeremy Farrar. Photo: BBC
Sir Jeremy Farrar. Photo: BBC
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On Saturday, the Department of Health said a total of 9,875 people had died in hospital in the UK after testing positive for coronavirus as of 5pm on Friday, up by 917 from the same point on Thursday.

Sir Jeremy said continuing testing in the community would “buy you time” to deal with the crisis, giving an additional six to eight weeks to ensure health systems were up to capacity.

“Undoubtedly there are lessons to learn from that,” Sir Jeremy said.

Sir Jeremy - a member of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) - said it was “probably inevitable” that there would be future waves of coronavirus across Britain without a vaccine in place.

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“It is my view that treatment and vaccines are our only true exit strategy from this,” he told the BBC.

“We are determined that we don’t go through this ever again and I think the chances of second and third waves of this epidemic are probably inevitable.

“And therefore having the right treatments to save lives and also having a vaccine in the future is going to be absolutely critical to prevent those second and third waves.”

On the prospect of a vaccine, he added: “The vaccine I think will be available during the autumn of this year but that will not be at the scale required to vaccinate maybe billions of people around the world.”

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And he also said there was evidence that black and other ethnic communities were more at risk from Covid-19.

He said: “There is some evidence growing both in the United States and here in Europe that people from BAME backgrounds are more at risk.

“What is critical to work out is whether that is something specific to that background or is it related to other risk factors we know about – age, other illness people have: diabetes, people who are obese have been more affected, people with high blood pressure, people with heart disease, lung disease.”

The medical expert said there had also been “almost 100 reports” of cases in South Korea where people had seemingly re-contracted coronavirus, casting fresh doubt over how long post-infection immunity was thought to last.

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“It is critical to understand whether that is one viral infection that has persisted in an individual for a considerable time and has now reactivated or whether they have been infected with a second virus,” said Sir Jeremy.

“Either way, it suggests that immunity perhaps in some people is not complete and that has major ramifications for the ability to make a vaccine and for the community to be protected against future waves.”

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