The UK could face 50,0000 cases of COVID-19 and 200 deaths per day by mid-October in a grim new warning delivered by the nation’s chief medical officers on Monday.
Chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty fronted the media to warn the country was following the same trajectory as Spain and France which saw a surge in coronavirus cases among the young before it spread to older people leading to more hospital admissions and deaths.
Sir Patrick said the virus is “clearly increasing” across all age groups and it’s estimated 70,000 people in the country have it at present with the figure doubling every seven days.
He said this could lead to 50,000 cases by day by mid-October and 200 plus deaths per day by mid-November.
Despite an early “herd immunity” approach by the government, latest antibody tests reveal just eight per cent of the population – around three million people out of 67 million – have antibodies.
“The vast majority of us are not protected in any way,” he said.
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Chief Medical Officer Whitty warned “this is not someone else’s problem, this is all of our problem.”
“If this carried on unabated … the number of deaths directly from COVID will continue to rise potentially on an exponential curve.”
“We have in a bad sense, literally turned a corner,” he said, warning that the “seasons are against us” as the northern hemisphere moves into autumn and winter.
“We should see this as a six month problem we have to deal with,” he said.
“Science can’t ride to our rescue.”
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The warning comes after the UK suffered the worst death toll in Europe in the early stages of the pandemic, with more than 42,000 people dying within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test so far.
Despite the high toll, restrictions have eased since July over the summer with pubs, restaurants and gyms opening. People have been encouraged by the government to “eat out to help out” with a government-sponsored dining scheme and return to workplaces and schools.
Now, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be mulling a two-week “circuit breaker” in October to stem the rising tide of the disease. Tougher measures on self-isolation and fines for breaking the rules will also be used and the government has recently introduced “rule of six” to limit the size of large gatherings.
Sir Patrick warned while the virus has “genetically moved a bit” it is not significantly less virulent or infectious than earlier in 2020 and “has not changed in propensity to cause death and disease”.
He said “good progress” is being made in terms of a vaccine response with nine candidates in large phase two or three trials around the world.
There is also the possibility that “a small amount” would be available for certain groups by the end of the year, with some in the first half of next year, if a trial proves successful.
Mr Johnson held talks with the leaders of administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – who control their own health policies – on Monday.
The UK government has said it does not want to introduce a second lockdown but will not hesitate to use one again if need be.