A LEADING respiratory specialist who chaired a scientific report forecasting hundreds of thousands more deaths from coronavirus this winter has backed a Southampton hospital campaign.

Professor Stephen Holgate, from University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, led a team of scientists who were asked to model a "reasonable" forecast of the effects of the virus in the 2020 and 2021 winter.

The report concluded a range between 24,500 and 251,000 of virus-related deaths in hospitals alone, peaking in January and February and warned ‘intense preparation’ is needed.

The report has warned that the NHS could be put under extreme pressure as the resurgence of the virus combined with normal winter pressures such as seasonal flu and spikes in conditions such as asthma, heart attack, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and stroke.

But that risk “could be reduced if we take action immediately,” the report by the Academy of Medical Sciences added.

Now Prof Holgate has thrown his weight behind the COVID ZERO campaign launched by UHS in a bid to ensure there is no transmission of the virus within its hospitals.

His support comes as the report called for a public information campaign for the whole of the UK.

The campaign was launched to help reduce the risk of further infections in Southampton.

Its message for the Southampton community as well as the trust’s 11,500 staff is “walk, wear, wash”.

They should wear a mask where they can’t walk apart from others, and they should wash their hands as often as possible.

Prof Holgate said: “We have a critical window of opportunity, with the rate of infection currently lower than it has been in our communities, to take action and do all that we can to reduce the impact that COVID-19 could have on the NHS this winter.

“The virus remains active, it is infectious and dangerous and nobody should be under the illusion that it has gone away.

“Now is the time for everyone to play their part and help prepare for the worst that winter could throw at us. The COVID ZERO campaign highlights perfectly the vital measures people should follow.

"The steps we all take now will have a significant impact on the outcome.”

COVID ZERO, backed by the Daily Echo, aims to speed up the return of hospital services while keeping staff and patients safe from the threat of coronavirus.

Stopping further infections will mean staff who have been redeployed during the pandemic will be able to return to their regular roles.

Businesses have also been urged to show their support for the campaign, by downloading and printing a COVID ZERO poster on their premises.