The Guardian has reported that the Covid-19 epidemic could last until Spring next year in the UK, according to a secret Public Health England (PHE) briefing document seen by the newspaper.

PHE estimates that as many as 7.9 million people, 15% of the population, could be admitted to hospital with the disease, placing an enormous strain on the UK’s health service, whilst up to 80% of the population could become infected in the 12-month time span.

500,000 healthcare workers could be off sick at any one time according to the document, whilst it also reports that swab testing on staff may become impossible because of the strain on services already being experienced.

The document states that the startling figures are to be ‘expected’,  despite the government’s chief medical adviser, Prof. Chris Whitty, previously claiming the estimates were a ‘worst-case scenario’.

Having been confirmed as accurate by Dr. Susan Hopkins of PHE, the document was shared with the country’s senior doctors and hospital chiefs.

“For the public to hear that it could last for 12 months, people are going to be really upset about that and pretty worried about that”, said Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, who spoke to The Guardian.

“A year is entirely plausible. But that figure isn’t well appreciated or understood…I think it will dip in the summer, towards the end of June, and come back in November, in the way that usual seasonal flu does. I think it will be around forever, but become less severe over time, as immunity builds up,” he added.

Because of the current strain on hospitals and laboratories expected to return test results, the PHE document recommends that only people who are seriously ill in hospital, or in prison and care homes where outbreaks have occurred, should be tested.

One senior NHS official told The Guardian that the figures mean up to half a million people could die, if the expected mortality rate of 1% materialises.