Economy faces new pingdemic (if the gloom squad get their way)… but analysis of Covid figures shows there may be no reason to panic

  • Modellers for Government’s Sage advisory group advised a revival of the system 
  • They insisted that reintroducing rules could help prevent a surge over autumn
  • Claim that without such measures hospitalisations could soar to 7,000 a day  

Ministers should return to rules that sparked the ‘pingdemic’ to keep Covid cases down, government scientists suggest.

In a controversial move, modellers for the Government’s Sage advisory group advised a revival of the system that forced all close contacts of confirmed cases to self-isolate – even if they were double-jabbed.

They insisted that re-introducing the rules could help prevent a surge over autumn and winter. 

Without such measures, they said the number of hospitalisations could soar as high as 7,000 a day.

In a controversial move, modellers for the Government’s Sage advisory group advised a revival of the system that forced all close contacts of confirmed cases to self-isolate – even if they were double-jabbed. Pictured: Chris Whitty 

But last night former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said that the rules – if implemented – would devastate the economy by creating ‘chaos’ in the workplace. ‘Here we go again, Project Fear being unleashed by the scientists as they try to push the Government into another lockdown,’ he said.

‘This is despite figures from the National Audit Office that fewer than 0.5 per cent of those that have died have had two vaccines. This shows the vaccines work.

‘The pingdemic will create chaos in the workplace and become a back door into another lockdown.’

In the summer, Britain was hit with a surge in people testing positive for Covid and reporting close contacts – meaning they had to self-isolate for ten days. This caused havoc in workplaces and was dubbed the ‘pingdemic’.

Later, the Government said that people would not need to self-isolate if they had been double-jabbed for two weeks. This solved the pingdemic problem – but with Covid hospitalisations rising, scientists say that the restrictions may need to be reintroduced.

Documents published on Tuesday show the Government’s scientific advisors urged ministers to consider bringing in extra restrictions soon – or risk the number of people being hospitalised with Covid rising to between 2,000 and 7,000 a day next month. 

This top figure – based on a scenario where the R-rate rises from 1 to 1.5 – far surpasses the winter peak of 4,309 hospitalisations on January 11.

Scientists from the Government’s SPI-M-O group – which provides modelling for Sage – said they expected cases to rise in the coming months thanks to the end of the school summer holidays and workers’ return to the office.

They proposed a ‘basket of measures’ to keep the epidemic under control. The document said: ‘If enacted early enough, a relatively light set of measures could likely be sufficient to curb sustained but slow growth. As well as encouraging home working, more light-touch measures could include clear messaging that recommends people acting cautiously, more widespread testing, a return to requiring all contacts of cases to isolate and more mask-wearing.’

Yesterday, a further 30,597 coronavirus cases and 201 deaths were reported by the Government. 

Here are six reasons why we can be hopeful 

By Xantha Leatham 

Covid admissions to hospital could reach double their January peak within weeks, according to scientific advisers.

Despite case numbers flattening and little sign of an upcoming surge, Sage modellers suggested daily hospitalisations could reach 7,000 a day.

Their models influenced the Government’s decision to outline fresh Covid curbs. But analysis of the figures indicates there may be no need for panic.

Cases vs hospitalisations

Latest hospitalisation data shows 688 people were admitted with Covid in England on Monday. That day, 21,416 people tested positive for the virus.

This suggests that in order to reach 7,000 hospitalisations, daily case rates might need to be around 217,000.

The highest daily cases England has recorded so far – 72,494 – was on December 29 in the midst of winter and before the vaccine rollout.

Impact of the vaccine

The day that most patients were hospitalised came on January 12, with the number hitting 4,134 in England.

The same day there were 44,667 cases of Covid, indicating that around one in ten of those who caught the virus had to go to hospital.

But at that point only 2.2million English residents had been vaccinated, compared with more than 40million now.

Last week, only around one in 31 recorded cases resulted in a hospital admission, demonstrating the clear effect the vaccine is having. The odds of being admitted after catching the virus have decreased enormously.

Booster jabs

The models will not have factored in the effect of vaccinating healthy 12 to 15-year-olds or giving booster doses to 30million people – because these policies have only just been announced.

As a result, the most vulnerable will continue to have a strong defence against catching or becoming seriously ill with the virus this winter.


The current estimate for R – the rate of reproduction – in England is between 0.9 and 1.1. The R-rate used to model the scenario of 7,000 hospitalisations a day is 1.5. This would signify a large increase in transmission of the virus.

The last time the R-rate was 1.5 came on July 9, shortly after the Government had started to lift restrictions but before many younger people had received two doses of the jab.

A month later, on August 6, the R-rate had come down again to 1.1.

Admitted for other reasons

Earlier this year, it was revealed that a quarter of Covid hospitalisations were of patients primarily admitted to wards for other reasons.

Official NHS data showed that of a sample of 5,021 patients classed as hospitalised by the virus, 1,166 were receiving care for other reasons.

It is unclear whether the scientists took this into account when creating their models.

Length of stay in hospital

According to analysis by Public Health England, of the 492,528 Delta variant cases between February 1 and August 29, 17,364 required a visit to A&E.

Of these, 4,923 resulted in an overnight inpatient admission – less than a third.

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