The country’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned the possibility of 50,000 new cases in a day as the country is at the brink of a second wave of coronavirus.
He appeared alongside the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance to reveal how the virus is spreading throughout England – and what could be in store as the winter months approach.
The Chief Medical Officer has now laid the ground for strict new controls in an urgent push to stop the ongoing surge in new coronavirus infections as the situation worsens across the UK.
In a televised news briefing broadcast on Monday morning, he has warned the UK faces a “very challenging winter”, with Britain heading in the “wrong direction”.
In a presentation of the latest data, the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: “The way that we reduce the spread is by limiting our number of contacts, by reducing contact in environments where spread is more likely – those are crowded environments, indoor environments, poor ventilation – and making sure that we reduce the probability of coming into contact with anyone who is infectious.
“And that’s the importance of self-isolation, keeping out of circulation if you have, or may have, the virus.”
Sir Patrick Vallance said coronavirus cases were rising across Europe – and that was leading to a mounting daily death toll.
The Government’s chief scientific adviser said in Spain and France “it started with younger people in their 20s and spread gradually to older ages as well”.
“That increasing case number has translated into an increase in hospitalisations.
“As the hospitalisations have increased… very sadly, but not unexpectedly, deaths are also increasing.”
There was a “simple message” that “as the disease spreads, as it spreads across age groups, we expect to see increasing hospitalisations and unfortunately, those increasing hospitalisations will lead to increasing deaths”.
Sir Vallance went on to discuss the data from testing across the country. He added: “The data from testing in England, what we see from July is an increase into September. The highest increase is 20-29 year olds but there has been an increase in all age groups. Could that increase be due to increase in testing?
“We see a similar increase in other studies, such as the ONS and Reach studies.
“The ONS study suggests 70,000 people have the infection and around 6,000 people get the virus per day. We are in no doubt the numbers are increasing.
“We want to show you how quickly this virus can move. Between July to middle of September, they have risen to roughly 3,000 cases a day. We think it is doubling every seven days or so. If this continues, by mid-October, we will end up with around 50,000 cases per day. This could translate to 200-plus deaths per day.
“Cases are increasing, hospitalisation is increasing and the number of deaths will increase with that.”
“The challenge therefore is to make sure the doubling time does not stay at seven days.
“There are already things in place which are expected to slow that, and to make sure that we do not enter this exponential growth and end up with the problems that you would predict as a result of that.
“That requires speed, it requires action and it requires and it requires enough in order to be able to bring that down.”
He added that just under 8% of the population have been infected by coronavirus and have antibodies. Meaning “the majority of us are susceptible to this disease and therefore you’d expect spread throughout them”
About three million or so people, may have been infected and have antibodies.
“It means the vast majority of us are not protected in any way and are susceptible to this disease.”
He said antibodies in city populations was a “little higher” and that as many as 17% of people in London could have them, making the spread slower in those areas.
Presenting a map displaying geographical spread of the virus, Prof Chris Whitty said: “At the moment the very high rates of transmission are very concentrated but what we have seen is progression from when we got the rates very low across the country.
“And now what we are seeing is a rate of increase across the whole country. And what we have found is anywhere that was falling is beginning to rise, and any rise is heading in an upwards direction.
“The number of inpatient cases, until August there had been a steady fall over time. It then stabilised and flattened out, but since the 1st September there has been a steady rise, doubling every seven or eight days.
“If this carries on, the number of deaths will increase on an exponential curve. We have in a bad sense literally turned a corner, but only very recently.
“The seasons are against us, and the winter months will likely benefit Covid like they do the flu. In the next period of the next six months we have to take this collectively very carefully.
“We see that the virus is no weaker than it was in April. For many people this will be a very mild virus, but as we move through the age brackets, the mortality rates are much higher. Higher than an ordinary seasonal flu, which kills around 7,000 people on average per year.”
Speaking about what is needed going forward, Prof Whitty added: We need to reduce our individual risk. Hands, face, space. Especially when indoors.
“The next thing we can do is isolate the virus – anyone with the virus should self-isolate and anyone they have been in contact with.
“We need to break unnecessary links between households – in work and also in social environments. We need to do this in the least damaging way but we can’t do this without some significant downsides.
“But if we don’t change course we will find ourselves in a very difficult spot.”
Sir Vallance added: I am pleased to say good progress has been made and several vaccines are in very late stage testing to prove they are safe.
It is understood the Prime Minister is expected to hold his own press conference as early as Tuesday.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Boris Johnson was not present during today’s address because he wanted to “allow scientists to set out the picture to the country”.
He added: “He will come out very soon after that and speak to the country.”
On Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to rule out the possibility of another national lockdown, while Mr Johnson said ‘it is the last thing anybody wants’.
But ministers are currently examining possible new measures after a number of reports suggested that the government was considering a second two-week national lockdown in a bid to stem the spread.
However, Professor Neil Ferguson – whose modelling led the government to order the lockdown in March – said that the government needs to act “sooner rather than later” if they are to prevent a new surge in coronavirus cases leading to more deaths.