Denis Campell, Health policy editor for The Guardian, reported that a document seen by The Guardian from Public Health England says “four in five expected to contract virus.”

“The coronavirus epidemic in the UK will last until next spring and could lead to 7.9 million people being hospitalised, a secret Public Health England (PHE) briefing for senior NHS officials reveals,” The Guardian reports.

This is the first time health officials in the UK have admitted that they expect the crisis to exist for another 12 months and “lead to huge extra strain on an already overstretched NHS.”

As many as 80% of Britons could become infected with the coronavirus over that time period, the report adds.

The document also states that the health service cannot cope with the sheer number of people with symptoms who need to be tested because laboratories are “under significant demand pressures”.

Only the very seriously ill who are already in hospital and people in care homes and prisons where the coronavirus has been detected will get tested, the report continues.

“Testing services are under such strain that even NHS staff will not be swabbed, despite their key role and the risk of them passing the virus on to patients,” the report concludes.

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Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, has previously described that figure as the worst-case scenario and suggested that the real number would turn out to be less than that. However, the briefing makes clear that four in five of the population “are expected” to contract the virus.

The document says that: “As many as 80% of the population are expected to be infected with Covid-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15% (7.9 million people) may require hospitalisation.”

The briefing sets out the latest official thinking about how severely the infection could affect both the public’s health and that of personnel in critical services such as the NHS, police, the fire brigade and transport.