In a press conference beamed across the nation on March 12, a bullish Boris Johnson announced that the government’s coronavirus strategy was to ‘flatten the peak’ of cases, or in the prime minister’s more flamboyant words, to ‘squash the sombrero.’
The goal, Mr Johnson explained, was not to suppress the virus entirely, but to keep infections at a lowish level to avoid overwhelming health services and prevent a deadly second wave.
At that point, just eight people had died in Britain from the virus out of the 590 who had tested positive.
Lockdown was more than 10 days away, and the government was still hoping that herd immunity could be achieved. A day after the press conference, Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, gave a television interview suggesting that 60 per cent of people would need to become infected to protect the population.
Yet after Imperial College modelling suggested such a ‘mitigation’ strategy could bring 250,000 deaths, the Government made a rapid volte face, imposing strict social distancing measures and closing businesses and schools on March 23.
The impact of such extreme suppression means that a second peak, far higher than the first, is now a near certainty and that has major implications for how Britain must exit the lockdown if such a catastrophe is to be avoided.
Here is what we know about a second wave and how it impacts the future:
The two peaks
In the first graphs, shown by Mr Johnson in March, ‘squashing the sombrero’ would cause the first peak to come in the summer, towards the end of May.
The rounded peak appeared to be about half the size of that expected if the disease was left to run rampant through the population.