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The UK is on course to be hit with a devastating second coronavirus wave that would be twice the size as the first outbreak this year. The prediction comes from researchers at University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The study suggests that, unless Britain improves its coronavirus test-and-trace system, the country risks a second wave of COVID-19 this winter twice as large as the initial outbreak when it reopens schools full-time.
Schools across the country closed down in March during the nation-wide lockdown, except for the children of key workers.
Classrooms have since largely operated with remote learning online, while a small number of pupils briefly returned to school in June.
Boris Johnson has said that getting all children back into school by early September is a “national priority”.
However, the new research shows that such a move could create a ticking time bomb for a devastating second coronavirus wave this winter.
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The research team modelled the impact of reopening schools, combined with continuing to ease social-distancing measures, under a range of scenarios.
If schools reopened as planned, 75 percent of people with COVID-19 symptoms would need to be diagnosed and isolated while 68 percent of their contacts would need to be traced.
The study’s lead author Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths told ITV news that the test-and-trace system in England is currently only reaching about 50 percent of contacts of those testing positive.
She said: “If we scale up testing, and scale up tracing, we can reopen schools and society without a second wave later this year.”
However, Baroness Harding, Chair of the NHS Test & Trace, hit back at fears of a second wave and criticism of the test-and-trace system.
She told ITV News: “The contact tracing system we have is extremely effective, and well within the bounds of what UCL says is necessary.
“We are delivering on that piece of the jigsaw puzzle.”
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If levels of diagnoses and contact tracing stay below the percentages required, the R-number would quickly soar above 1, according to the researchers.
The second spike of the coronavirus would then peak in December 2020 and be 2.0 to 2.3 times the size of the original COVID-19 wave this year.
Questioned about the study, junior local government minister Simon Clarke told BBC Radio 4: “I think we all accept that test-and-trace is a programme which needs to continue to improve.
“There is total humility in government about that.”
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