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UK coronavirus crisis ‘to last until spring 2021 and could see 7.9m hospitalised’

Exclusive: Public Health England document seen by Guardian says four in five ‘expected’ to contract virus

The coronavirus epidemic in the UK will last until next spring and could lead to 7.9 million people being hospitalised, a secret Public Health England (PHE) briefing for senior NHS officials reveals.

The document, seen by the Guardian, is the first time health chiefs tackling the virus have admitted that they expect it to circulate for another 12 months and lead to huge extra strain on an already overstretched NHS.

It also suggests that health chiefs are braced for as many as 80% of Britons becoming infected with the coronavirus over that time.

Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, has previously described that figure as the worst-case scenario and suggested that the real number would turn out to be less than that. However, the briefing makes clear that four in five of the population “are expected” to contract the virus.

The document says that: “As many as 80% of the population are expected to be infected with Covid-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15% (7.9 million people) may require hospitalisation.”

The briefing sets out the latest official thinking about how severely the infection could affect both the public’s health and that of personnel in critical services such as the NHS, police, the fire brigade and transport.

It has been drawn up in recent days by PHE’s emergency preparedness and response team and approved as accurate by Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE’s lead official dealing with the outbreak. It has been shared with hospital bosses and senior doctors in the NHS in Engand.

“For the public to hear that it could last for 12 months, people are going to be really upset about that and pretty worried about that”, said Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia.

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