The head of public health in Essex has admitted to being terrified as he spelled out a conservative estimate of at least as many deaths this winter involving Covid-19 as the county saw during the virus’ first wave.
Dr Mike Gogarty’s prediction mirrors the warning in a report commissioned by the government’s chief scientific advisor, that a second wave of coronavirus could bring twice as many deaths as the first.
A group of 37 scientists, asked by Sir Patrick Vallance to model a reasonable worst case scenario for the upcoming winter, warned that 119,000 people may die in hospital if a second wave hits while the NHS is dealing with a bad winter flu season.
Dr Gogarty, who serves as director, Wellbeing, Public Health and Communities at Essex County Council, did offer some comfort that he believed the chances of a major flu outbreak were “vanishingly small”, but even with social distancing in place he warned that thousands are likely to die this winter from Covid-19.
As of Tuesday the official UK death toll stood at 46,210. Up until June 25 it stood at 33,016.
Dr Gogarty told the Health Overview Policy and Scrutiny Committee last week: “If we get an R value of 1.5 at the beginning of November what that would look like is we would have a much less steep peak than we had earlier in the year, so we wouldn’t see the very high peak we saw at Easter time, but because we couldn’t lock down to the extent we locked down at that time, this would be a lower peak but would go on much longer.
“The NHS would be probably better able to cope, we would be better prepared in terms of protecting care homes.
“But because the wave will go on for longer and won’t be as high, the area under the line will be just as great so the number of cases and number of deaths would be similar to what we saw earlier in the year.
“And that is not a pessimistic picture. Things could get quite grim this winter.”
He added that as he looks to implement the outbreak plan that every authority has to in order to protect services and residents: “I’m terrified so God knows what the others are like.”
However, he offered some comfort that there may not be any flu outbreak at all.
He added: “There is often a discussion about flu. My personal opinion is I don’t think we are going to manage the brilliant social distancing with coronavirus we did earlier in the year, but we still have a considerable level of social distancing.
“Even in the worse case scenario experts argue that an R rate won’t go beyond 1.5 to 1.7.
“The social distancing that would allow a suppression of coronavirus to 1.5 to 1.7 will wipe out flu.
“Flu is much less transmissible anyway and you do exactly the same things to prevent its spread.
“So I think the chances of us having a major flu outbreak this winter are vanishingly small because of the coronavirus interventions.”
For the moment figures in Essex, including Southend and Thurrock, show Covid-19 deaths and case numbers appear to be falling.
In the week ending July 24, three people died from Covid-19-related deaths across Essex, including Southend and Thurrock, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics.
That was down from nine the week before.
The numbers for the week ending July 24 include two deaths in hospitals, a fall from five a week before, and no deaths in care homes, down from two.
The figures are based on the number of deaths registered up to August 1, where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate.
Overall, there have been 1,753 deaths across Essex involving Covid-19 between the start of the outbreak and July 24.