Scientists have warned that the UK could see about 120,000 new coronavirus deaths in a second wave of infections this winter.
Asked to model a “reasonable” worst-case scenario, they suggest a range between 24,500 and 251,000 of virus-related deaths in hospitals alone, peaking in January and February.
To date, there have been 44,830 official deaths in the UK, but this has slowed with only 1,100 in July.
The report, requested by the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, stresses that there is still a high degree of uncertainty over how the coronavirus pandemic will play out this winter. This is partly because research tends to suggest that the virus can survive longer in colder conditions and is more likely to spread when people spend more time indoors.
The estimate does not take into account any lockdowns, treatments or vaccines.
And the scientists say: “The risk… could be reduced if we take action immediately”.
And experts are concerned the NHS will be under extreme pressure, not just from a resurgence of coronavirus but also from seasonal flu and a backlog of regular, non-coronavirus workload.
The health service is already severely disrupted in the aftermath of the first pandemic wave, with a waiting list that could stand at 10 million by the end of this year, the report says.
Prof Stephen Holgate, a respiratory specialist from University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, who chaired the report, said: “This is not a prediction – but it is a possibility.