Freedom from Covid curbs could last just weeks amid fears of another lockdown in the autumn, government scientists have warned.
Surging cases of coronavirus pose a ‘significant risk’ meaning restrictions would have to make a return, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies [SAGE] has said.
Boris Johnson announced on Monday that most Covid laws would be scrapped from step 4 of the roadmap – which is expected to take effect on July 19.
The PM and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty admitted this would likely lead to an increase in cases and deaths.
In a downbeat assessment SAGE said if a ‘variant of concern’ was to arrive threatening immunity lockdown would need to return and for longer.
It could mean that the relaxation of Covid restrictions could have to be re-imposed just weeks after they are lifted, with fresh lockdowns by the autumn and into the winter.
The next stage of the relaxation of restrictions is expected to be on July 19 (Image: REUTERS)
Sage said in a report: “Stronger measures may be desirable for autumn and winter.”
The scientists say another wave would be expected to occur even if the assumed baseline measures reduce transmission by 25 per cent, but that it would be much higher without these.
As well as wearing face coverings, the baseline measures considered include symptomatic testing and isolation (following a positive test), contact isolation, certification to show negative testing or vaccination, and physical distancing.
On physical distancing, the document says: “Close range transmission [is] likely to be highest individual exposure risk, so explicit measures to address are likely to be beneficial.”
It also states: “Even beyond the point when all adults have been offered the vaccine, keeping some level of measures in place both through summer and beyond would significantly decrease ongoing transmission.”
There are warnings of more lockdowns to come later in the year (Image: POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Scientists went on to warn: “It is highly likely that transmission will increase in autumn and winter.
“This may mean that the effectiveness of baseline measures may vary through the year, and they will have to be augmented to have the same impact.
“Lifting restrictions may recreate the conditions for super-spreader events, both person driven (one highly infectious but possibly asymptomatic person going to multiple places) and setting-driven (nightclubs, religious events where crowding is experienced, low ventilation, loud activities etc).”
New cases are currently soaring and are at their highest level since January, and the numbers are believed to be poised to reach 50,000 a day within two weeks.
Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said cases are doubling every nine days, while hospitalisations are “rising quite steeply in some places and we would expect that to continue”.
“It’s a weakened link, not a completely broken link,” he said.
He added: Deaths are increasing. Theres an increase in deaths just as theres been an increase in hospitalisation and we would expect that to continue also.
Englands Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the epidemic is “clearly significant and rising.
He told the No10 press conference earlier: The winter is inevitably going to be tricky.
And clearly this winter the NHS is likely to have both Covid and some resurgence of other respiratory viruses that were suppressed by the degree of lockdown last time.
So I think we should be realistic – this coming winter may be very difficult for the NHS.
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Prof Whitty signalled a herd immunity approach – saying modelling indicated that Covid will reach a peak with restrictions lifted, then fall back before hospitalisations and deaths can overwhelm the NHS.
Boris Johnson described summer as a “firebreak” allowing a reopening now, rather than in winter which would be a more “difficult time” or delaying until next year.
He said: “If we don’t go ahead now when we we’ve clearly done so much with the vaccination programme to break the link between infection and death.
“If we don’t go ahead now when the summer firebreak is coming up, the school holidays, all the advantages that that should give us in fighting the virus, then the question is, ‘when would we go ahead?’
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