Britain will ‘of course’ face a new lockdown if Covid’s third wave hits ‘unacceptable’ levels, a minister warned Friday after Chris Whitty admitted the country may have to face new restrictions within weeks.
Solicitor General Lucy Frazer suggested it was the right time to open up because of the success of the vaccination drive — which has reached 90 per cent of Britons.
But with cases continuing to soar, hospital admissions tracking above some of SAGE’s worst-case projections, and deaths having hit a four-month high, she warned that No10 may be left with no choice but to consider re-imposing tough restrictions.
Ms Frazer said: ‘Of course, if we get into a situation where it is unacceptable and we do need to put back further restrictions, then that of course is something the Government will look at.’
England’s chief medical officer last night cautioned the UK could still ‘get into trouble again surprisingly fast’ and hospitals may face ‘scary numbers’ within a matter of weeks.
Making it clear the country was not on an irreversible path to freedom despite No10 pushing ahead with step four of the roadmap to normality on Monday, Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘We are not by any means out of the woods yet.’
Boris Johnson has already dropped all mention of the final unlocking being ‘irreversible’. The Prime Minister has resorted to caution, calling on people not to ‘go wild’ and immediately rush to take advantage of the final easing — which includes lifting work-at-home orders and reopening nightclubs.
Cases have spiralled over the past few weeks, with scientists blaming the easing of restrictions and young men gathering to watch England’s Euro 2020 campaign for the uptick.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data released today estimated one in 95 in England had Covid last week, with infections rising 73.5 per cent to 577,7000.
Vaccines have already saved thousands of lives since the third wave began, drastically slashing the proportion of infected patients who are left seriously ill. But jabs aren’t perfect, and admissions have been tracking upwards for a fortnight.
Almost 560 infected patients are being admitted to NHS wards each day now, compared to fewer than 100 before the Indian Delta variant took off in mid-May. The current trend in figures is above some of the gloomiest estimates from SAGE, who warned hospitalisations could breach 4,000 a day in August.
It comes after health chiefs yesterday posted another 63 deaths, in the highest daily rise since March, and 48,553 cases.
Saying restrictions should be eased on July 19, Ms Frazer told Sky News: ‘I think the Health Secretary has been very clear, as has the Prime Minister, that we will see infections rise.
‘But the reason why restrictions are being taken away is because of the vaccination programme, which will protect people when those infections do rise.
She added: ‘We are going into the summer, a large number of people have been vaccinated, we’ve had a really tough time, we’re still asking people to take responsibility and we do need to ask ourselves, if we don’t open up now, when will we be able to open up?
‘It is really important that we get the balance right between ensuring that we keep this virus under control and we take the necessary clinical measures to do that, but that we also recognise that there are consequences of not opening up and not allowing people to go about their daily lives.’
Professor Whitty warned yesterday that Britain is ‘not out of the woods yet’ and could face another lockdown within weeks.
Speaking at a Science Museum event, he said: ‘I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast. We are not by any means out of the woods yet on this,.
‘[But] we are in much better shape due to the vaccine programme, and drugs and a variety of other things.’
He called on Britons to ‘take things incredibly slowly’ after July 19, amid warnings from transport operators across the country that they will still ask people to wear face masks next week.
‘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.
Professor Whitty also warned the country was running the risk of seeing ‘vaccine escape variants’ that could push the UK ‘some way backwards’ into the worst days of the pandemic.
Modelling released by SAGE showed they were expecting fewer than 500 hospitalisations due to Covid at this time.
But official figures reveal the country is already recording more hospitalisations than were predicted by experts at Imperial College London and Warwick, which advised No10’s top scientists.
But hospitalisations are still level with those predicted by experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which tends to have the gloomiest estimates.
Some scientists have already blamed Euro 2020 for driving a ferocious surge in cases, after people crowded together in pubs and homes to watch the matches and tens of thousands of fans packed inside Wembley for England’s six home games in London.
Experts have also speculated England’s cases could start to fall after the national team’s dramatic defeat to Italy on penalties in the final last Sunday. Scotland saw its outbreak start to fall when it crashed out of the competition early.