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'Never zero risk' with Covid as expert warns over third wave in Chile

Health workers wearing protective gear against the spread of the COVID-19 push a patient in a wheelchair past a funeral car at San Jose hospital in Santiago, Chile, Friday, April 9, 2021 (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) 
Ella Pickover, PA

There will "never be zero risk" of catching Covid-19, even if all precautions are followed, a scientist has warned.

But people can minimise their risk if they follow guidelines including mask wearing and social distancing, Dr Mike Tildesley, reader in infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick said.

Dr Tildesley, a member of the British government's Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said any form of reopening "could lead to higher risk".

Meanwhile, one expert said that he was worried about the reopening of society after a third Covid-19 wave hit Chile despite a significant proportion of the country having been vaccinated.

Asked what the effect of reopening may have on infection rates, Dr Tildesley told Times Radio: "It's hard to tell categorically but I think we do need to remember that with any form of reopening there's going to be more mixing, and so we might expect that that could lead to higher risk.

"This is exactly why this road map has got five weeks in between the next couple of relaxations - it gives us enough time to monitor what happens if we do start to see a concerning rise in cases, and more importantly if we see a concerning rise in hospital admissions and people sadly dying from the disease.

"We might expect it could have a resurgence, but it's really really important therefore that people follow the rules that are in place with this relaxation.

"All the signs are pretty good at the moment - cases have been going down for many weeks now, we're seeing hospital admissions and deaths go down to very low numbers, and we really hope that continues.

"It is great news that people can get out and go to non-essential shops and go to pubs and restaurants and so forth. But of course follow the guidelines that is still in place."

He added: "We should never say there can't be any transmission if we follow those rules, what we're doing is we're trying to minimise the risk of transmission as much as possible.

"By taking these precautions there is never going to be zero risk, there's always the possibility that even with those precautions you could get infected but you're minimising your own risk of being infected and also potentially passing the virus on."

He added that "we're not there yet" when it comes to socialising indoors - which carries a higher risk of transmission.

Meanwhile, Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the British government, raised concerns about a third wave of infections in Chile.

Asked about the easing of lockdown restrictions in England, he told Sky News: "From the point of view of the population itself, we're all dying to get out of lockdown.

"From the point of view of the epidemic, I think it's all a little bit more worrying."

He added: "Chile is a country where the rate of vaccination amongst the population was third highest in the world - they were ahead of us in terms of the number of people who have had the vaccine - and they're suddenly now into a third wave.

"They now have 7,600 cases a day and the total number of people in Chile now who have Covid-19 is over a million.

"So what has happened in Chile is very, very surprising - a high percentage of people have been vaccinated, but here's a variant of the disease coming through the country."

Sir David said he did not think it would be possible to stop the "Brazilian variant" of coronavirus coming to the UK, but added that travel abroad was still possible "on a very restricted basis".

A "significant" cluster of the South African Covid-19 variant has been detected in south London. It is feared the variant could spread more quickly and affect how well vaccines work.

Sir David said he supported a traffic light system for foreign travel, adding: "So if we're talking about travelling directly to a country with a very low rate of the disease, and if the proper precautions are taken in that you're fully tested or fully vaccinated, then I think it is quite feasible to allow people to travel overseas.

"But I think it should be on a very restricted basis.

"I think we know that the South African variant, for example, has come into this country. There's a significant take up of it here.

"And the Brazilian variant - I don't believe we can keep it out of the country. So the importance of the fine test, trace, isolate and support system just cannot be overestimated."

Sir David was also critical of the Test and Trace system.

"It is spending £135 billion on private sector companies of our money, public money, on this process, and it hasn't succeeded.

"If we have a new outbreak, we need to separate everyone with the disease, and those who have been in contact with them, from the rest of the population, and then we can go on with our business."

On virus hotspots in England, he added: "There we have seen no real focus from the government on stepping into those communities with people from those communities, to see that we get proper isolation that we've seen that we get proper lockdown."

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