London: The UK is "not out of the woods yet" with the coronavirus pandemic and the number of people hospitalised with the deadly virus could reach quite scary numbers" if the trend is sustained, England's Chief Medical Officer has warned. Professor Chris Whitty also said that people should approach the end of most restrictions from Monday with caution.
Whitty said that the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 is doubling around every three weeks and could hit "quite scary numbers" if that trend is sustained. He urged the public to take things incredibly slowly as the so-called July 19 Freedom Day from legal lockdown restrictions approaches. "I don't think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast," he told a webinar hosted by the Science Museum on Thursday.
"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. But this has got a long way to run in the UK, and it's got even further to run globally," he said. The senior medic, who appears by the side of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Downing Street briefings on coronavirus to run through the statistics and medical analysis, said he expected most people will carry on taking precautions such as face masks in enclosed spaces even if they are no longer a legal requirement in England from 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 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," he added.
From Monday, all legal lockdown restrictions will end in England and most parts of the United Kingdom, with varying rules on face coverings and large gatherings in place across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. On Thursday, the UK recorded 48,553 new infections and a further 63 deaths from coronavirus, figures that have been on the rise over the past few days.