Will a third COVID wave in Europe impact UK?

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA - Credit: UEA

The progress of the UK's vaccine rollout should prevent a sharp rise in hospitalisations if a third coronavirus wave across Europe impacts this country, a Norfolk virus expert has said.

The government confirmed on Saturday that more than half of UK adults have now received the first COVID vaccine dose.

But concerns have been rising about a potential third coronavirus wave across Europe, with 20 EU countries reporting increasing rates and 15 seeing a rise in hospital or intensive care admissions. 

Questions are being asked about the impact this could have on the British government's roadmap out of lockdown, with further restrictions due to be lifted on March 29 and all limits on social interaction due to end on June 21.

Professor Paul Hunter, from the UEA's Norwich Medical School, said though it was always possible for infection rates to go up in the UK, a big factor in comparison to other waves was that the most vulnerable had been vaccinated.

He said: "There is always the potential we could go back into exponential growth, despite the Prime Minister's reassurance we will never go into lockdown again. It is always a possibility. 

 "I'm not making predictions, we may see cases rise but not see a rise in numbers of hospitalisation or certainly nowhere near numbers we saw in December, January or February. 

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"We will have better protection as a country. The full impact of the protection does depend on a number of issues. The big question is the new variants."

Meanwhile, Norwich Airport has recently announced its plans to reopen in accordance with government guidelines, but on Saturday a government scientist warned holidays abroad would be "extremely unlikely" this summer due to the risk of new Covid-19 variants being brought back into the UK.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Spi-M modelling group which advises the government, said there was a danger that new variants could jeopardise the vaccination programme later in the year.

Prof Hunter said he hopes to go overseas this year but would not book until close to the date.

He said: "I'm more optimistic than pessimistic that we will get to the point we can have travel restrictions lifted in the UK.  It will be down to what's happening in other countries.

"If, by June/ July, this surge that is occurring at the moment in some European countries is reversed and cases are down to small numbers, as we get into summer we will see."