Covid: Be cautious as England lockdown ends, urges Whitty
The UK is “not out of the woods yet” and people should act with caution as Covid restrictions in England end on Monday, Prof Chris Whitty has said.
The chief medical adviser warned that hospital admissions were doubling every three weeks and could hit “scary numbers” if the trend continues.
Prof Whitty said the pandemic still had a “long way to run in the UK”.
It comes as the UK recorded nearly 50,000 new cases on Thursday – the highest daily number since January.
Prof Whitty told an online seminar hosted by the Science Museum on Thursday evening: “I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast.”
He added: “We are not by any means out of the woods yet on this, we are in much better shape due to the vaccine programme, and drugs and a variety of other things.
“The further out in time we go, the more tools we have at our disposal from science, the less likely that is but you can never take that possibility completely off the table.”
“But this has got a long way to run in the UK, and it’s got even further to run globally.”
He said while the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 at the moment was “mercifully much lower than it was previously”, he insisted the number was “not trivial”.
“We’ve still got over 2,000 people in hospital and that number is increasing,” he said.
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But Prof Whitty said the key on 19 July was “to take things incredibly slowly” – adding that he fully anticipated most people would still take precautions.
“If you look over what people have done, and in fact if you look at what people intend to do now, people have been incredibly good at saying, ‘I may be a relatively low risk, but people around me are at high risk, and I’m going to modify my behaviours’,” he said.
From 19 July, almost all legal restrictions on social contact will be removed in England, but some guidance will remain. Different rules apply in the the rest of the UK.
Nightclubs will be allowed to reopen for the first time since March last year and capacity limits will be removed for all venues and events.
There will no longer be any limits on how many people can meet and the 1m-plus distancing rule will also end.
The legal requirement to wear face coverings in some enclosed public places will expire, but Health Secretary Sajid Javid has previously said masks would still be “expected and recommended” in crowded indoor areas.
But the UK’s two largest supermarkets – Tesco and Sainsbury’s – have said they will continue to ask shoppers to wear masks from Monday to protect staff and shoppers.
Prof Whitty predicted that in the medium term, coronavirus could mutate into a “vaccine escape variant” that could take the UK “some of the way backwards” into the worst days of the pandemic.
“The further out in time we go, the more tools we have at our disposal from science, the less likely that is but you can never take that possibility completely off the table,” he said.
“But you know, science has done a phenomenal job so far and it will continue to do so.”
Prof Whitty’s latest comments echo his statements at Monday’s Downing Street coronavirus briefing where Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the final stage of unlocking in England would take place on 19 July.
The chief medical officer said the “overwhelming view” of the scientific community was that moving “slowly” through the next step of easing restrictions was “essential”.
He added that while the numbers of people being admitted to hospital with Covid were “not trivial”, they were rising at a much lower rate than previous waves.
On Thursday, the UK recorded new 48,553 new infections and a further 63 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
It comes as more than half a million self-isolation alerts were sent to people using the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales during the first week of July – a 46% rise on the previous week.
Firms including Nissan and Rolls-Royce have warned production could be affected due to high numbers of staff being told to isolate by the NHS Test and Trace app.