Covid-19: UK in early stages of third wave – scientist
There are signs the UK is in the early stages of a third wave of coronavirus infections, a scientist advising the government has said.
Prof Ravi Gupta, from the University of Cambridge, said although new cases were “relatively low” the Indian variant had caused “exponential growth”.
He said ending Covid restrictions in England on 21 June should be postponed.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the government could not rule out a delay to the planned lockdown easing.
On Sunday, the UK reported more than 3,000 new Covid infections for a fifth successive day.
Prior to this, the UK had not surpassed that number since 12 April.
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Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether the UK was already in a third wave of infections, Prof Gupta said: “Yes, there has been exponential growth in the number of the new cases and at least three-quarters of them are the new (Indian) variant.
“Of course the numbers of cases are relatively low at the moment – all waves start with low numbers of cases that grumble in the background and then become explosive, so the key here is that what we are seeing here is the signs of an early wave.
“If you look at the costs and benefits of getting it wrong, I think it is heavily in
favour of delay, so I think that’s the key thing.”
However, he said the number of people who have been vaccinated in the UK meant this wave would probably take longer to emerge than previous ones.
“There may be a false sense of security for some time, and that’s our concern.”
The number of people who are fully vaccinated, having received both doses, has now passed 25 million – closing in on half of the British population.
Prof Gupta – a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) – said ending restrictions in June should be delayed “by a few weeks whilst we gather more intelligence”.
“If you look at the costs and benefits of getting it wrong, I think it is heavily in favour of delay, so I think that’s the key thing,” he added.
The final stage of the government’s roadmap for lifting lockdown, which would see all legal limits on social contact removed, is due no earlier than 21 June.
However, Mr Eustice told the Today programme that the government had to take things “one step at a time”.
“We can’t rule anything out. We know this has been a difficult pandemic, a dynamic situation. We have to make that judgment a couple of weeks before.
“It will only be by then that we will see the impact of the latest easement we made on 17 May.”
A final decision on whether restrictions will be lifted will be reached on 14 June.