UK faces ‘very difficult winter’ with combined threat of Covid, flu, RSV and norovirus

THE UK faces a potentially “very difficult winter”, the countries leading scientists have warned.

Government advisers on Sage have further propelled fears the next few months could be spell trouble, as alongside coronavirus, other viruses pick up pace again.


The UK is moving into autumn with high Covid cases and the threat of flu. Pictured: A busy London UndergroundCredit: Dan Charity

Many viruses – including flu, RSV and norovirus – spread more during the cold months.

And with lower immunity due to lockdowns, offices and schools returning, and no more Covid restrictions, the NHS could quickly become strained, according to the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling.

SPI-M-O said in a paper published today: “With the current levels of high prevalence combined with unknown behaviours, the burden on health and care settings could rise very quickly.

“If acute COVID-19 combines with other pressures, such as Long COVID, other infectious diseases (influenza, RSV, norovirus, etc.), or co-infection of SARS-CoV-2 with other diseases increases morbidity, it could be a very difficult winter ahead.”

The SPI-M-O paper feeds into Sage, the advisory panel to the Government, which fears the UK is teetering on the edge of another spike.

Sage minutes from September 9 say: “The epidemic is entering a period of uncertainty with rapidly altering patterns of behaviour associated with schools reopening and more people returning to workplaces.

“Although the epidemic appears to have stayed relatively stable in the last six weeks, contact networks are likely to change in the coming weeks, increasing transmission.”

It comes after Professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the current Covid situation “does not bode well for winter”.

With 37,000 people diagnosed a day, and 8,000 admitted to hospital, Prof Gupta said the data suggest that “we’re not out of the woods”.

Prof Gupta told Sky News: “We can see from the figures that we’re still nearing a thousand deaths a week and thousands of hospitalised patients that are challenging capacity in our hospitals.

“[That is] of course making care for non-Covid patients extremely difficult as well because of the stretch of the staff that are in those hospitals who have been under pressure for 18 months now.

“So it’s pretty clear I think, from the data and from individual sources, that we’re not out of the woods and it doesn’t bode well for going into winter at all.”

Prof Gupta said the situation moving into autumn “could have been avoided” had the UK opened up more slowly than it did.


Government vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said he was “concerned about flu”, which will soon begin circulating more widely.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Zahawi said: “We’re about to embark on a massive booster campaign and of course a flu vaccination programme – I am concerned about flu, we haven’t had much flu circulating anywhere in the world, and in a bad year we could lose up to 25,000 people to flu.”

In a typical year, between 10,000 and 30,000 people die of flu in England.

Modelling from scientists say between 15,000 and 60,000 people could die from flu this winter because immunity has waned in the population due to less mixing.



Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said the flu risk this year is “really significant”.

He told the Commons: “Really significant risk, not least because for reasons that we are all familiar with, there wasn’t much flu last year.

“There is a lot less natural immunity around in our communities and the flu vaccine itself, not just in the UK but being deployed across Europe, has less efficacy than normal but it is still effective.

“It is still a very worthwhile vaccine and that’s why we will be trying to maximise uptake.”

Calum Semple, a member of Sage and professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, agreed “it’s not just going to be coronavirus that’s causing us trouble” this winter.

He told BBC Breakfast it would be a “rough winter” due to Covid, flu, RSV and other viruses.


Covid cases have been steadily rising after a dip in mid-July, with the vaccines preventing dire consequences in hospital rates and deaths – although these are also on the up.

It’s given rise to concern that lockdowns will again be needed, should the situation worsen.

Mr Zahawi did not rule out that lockdowns would return, but said they “would be an absolutely last resort”.

It echoes No10’s sentiment, as the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said yesterday: “We would only ever consider those sort of measures as a last resort… It is thanks to the fences built up through our vaccine programme that we are in a very different position.”

But asked whether it could be guaranteed families could spend Christmas together, Mr Zahawi said: “The important thing to remember is that, as we embark on the winter months, viruses have an inbuilt advantage, whether it be flu or the Covid virus. 

“As (England’s chief medical officer) Chris Whitty set out yesterday, it would be foolhardy to think this thing has already transitioned from pandemic to endemic.”

The PM is said to be dead against another lockdown after three crippled the UK’s economy.

He is expected to set out details of the Winter Plan this afternoon at his first coronavirus briefing since July, despite the death of his mother, Charlotte Johnson Wahl, yesterday.

Instead of draconian shutdowns, Mr Johnson is only considering bringing back mask wearing in public places and work-at-home advice should they be needed.

The PM’s focus for keeping a fourth wave contained will be on a “massive” booster Covid vaccine programme, reaching all over 50s.

Mr Zahwai said: “Winter gives the virus an inbuilt advantage – boosters reduce that advantage by hopefully taking the most vulnerable out of harm’s way.”

Nadhim Zahawi says lockdowns will be last resort this Winter`

We pay for your stories!

Do you have a story for The Sun news desk?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here