The team then projected what the new variant would do over the next six months and built models that took into account different levels of restrictions. Without a larger rollout of the vaccine, they warned, “cases, hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and deaths in 2021 could exceed those of 2020.”
Closing schools until February could save Britain time, the researchers found, but lifting these additional restrictions would then lead to a major rebound in cases.
Due to the higher transmission rate, the country will need a much higher percentage of the population to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. To reduce the maximum burden on intensive care units, researchers found that vaccination would need to increase to two million people per week from the current rate of 200,000 people.
“You need to be able to remove the barriers to transmission as early as possible,” said Dr. Hanage.
The researchers cautioned that their model was based, like any model, on a set of assumptions, some of which may turn out to be wrong. For example, the rate at which those infected die from Covid-19 may continue to decline as doctors improve in the care of hospital patients. Uncertainties remain as to whether the new variant is more contagious in children and, if so, by how much.
Yet, they wrote, “there is an urgent need to think about new approaches that may be needed to sufficiently reduce the continued transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”
Alessandro Vespignani, director of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University in Boston, who was not involved in the study, said of the new estimates: “Unfortunately, that’s another twist of the story.”