‘There is no second wave – we're just testing more,’ Oxford coronavirus expert says

 Road sign advising social distancing during Covid-19. Daily life in Yorkshire, the largest county in England, UK. (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Road sign advising social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19. (PA)

The rising number of coronavirus cases in the UK is down to more tests being carried out and does not point to a second wave, an expert on medicine has said.

Medical experts have previously predicted that the UK will see a second wave of the virus in winter, a forecast echoed by World Health Organization (WHO) Europe director Hans Kluge last week.

However, Professor Carl Heneghan of the University of Oxford believes that while a “comprehensive system of national test and trace” has led to an uptick of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the UK, that does not mean the disease is on the rise.

Instead, Heneghan said “new mild cases” are not infectious, and are simply being picked up by sensitive tests, providing positive results.

A driver wearing PPE hands a swab test to soldiers helping at a pop-up covid19 drive-through testing centre in Dalston, Hackney, east London, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Picture date: Saturday May 2, 2020.
A driver wearing PPE hands a swab test to soldiers helping at a pop-up COVID-19 drive-through testing centre in Dalston, Hackney. (PA)

These virus particles already been dealt with “efficiently” by immune systems of those who have contracted COVID-19, Heneghan said.

He told MailOnline: “There is currently no second wave. What we are seeing is a sharp rise in the number of healthy people who are carrying the virus, but exhibiting no symptoms.

“Almost all of them are young. They are being spotted because – finally – a comprehensive system of national test and trace is in place.”

He added: “The government urgently needs to send out a clear, concise message that the risk from COVID-19 is currently low.”

Heneghan said the fear that people with coronavirus but no symptoms are spreading it to others “is not borne out by the experiences of the past six months”.

Newly released data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that weekly death registrations involving COVID-19 in England and Wales fell to 138 in the week ending 21 August – their lowest level since before lockdown.

However, an increase of cases has seen the government halt its planned easing of local lockdowns in Bolton and Trafford.

But, writing in The Spectator, Heneghan said that in the UK “we appear to have the reality of viral circulation”, which is “probably waning fast”.

He highlighted how deaths in both the UK and Italy – the two European nations worst hit by COVID-19 – remained low and stable, despite weeks of rising cases.

He added that the sensitivity of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for testing meant that the smallest fragments of the virus in a sample are amplified millions of times – providing a positive result even when someone is not infected by the whole virus.

These fragments do not make the whole virus, he wrote, and therefore cannot infect other people.

Heneghan added: “Evidence is mounting that a good proportion of 'new' mild cases and people re-testing positives after quarantine or discharge from hospital are not infectious, but are simply clearing harmless virus particles which their immune system has efficiently dealt with.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivers a speech on the future of the NHS at the Royal College of Physicians in central London. (Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)
Health secretary Matt Hancock has warned that the UK faces a possible second wave of coronavirus in winter. (Getty)

“Those whose immunity is more active are exactly in the age group of observed 'positives' and least likely to end with severe disease.”

On Wednesday health secretary Matt Hancock warned that a rise in infections in healthy people could result in a second wave of coronavirus.

He told MPs in the Commons: “I said in July that a second wave was rolling across Europe and sadly we’re now seeing an exponential rise in the number of cases in France and Spain. And the number of hospitalisations is sadly rising there too.

“We must do everything in our power to protect against a second wave here in the UK.”

Coronavirus: what happened today

Click here to sign up to the latest news and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter