Professor Chris Whitty has warned the number of people in hospital with coronavirus could read “quite scary” levels within weeks,
The Government's top medic said the UK is “not out of the woods yet”, just hours after Boris Johnson declared it was “highly probable” the worst of the pandemic is over.
At a glance: 5 key points
England's chief medical officer warned that Covid hospitalisations were doubling every three weeks and could hit "scary numbers" in future. He added that the pandemic still had a “long way to run in the UK”.
The warning arrives as the UK recorded the highest daily number of Covid-19 cases since January, with nearly 50,000 new cases on Thursday (15 July)
Prof Whitty told an online seminar hosted by the Science Museum on Thursday evening that the situation could become very dangerous for individual hospitals. He added that the UK is "not out of the woods yet" and people should act with caution as Covid restrictions in England end on Monday (19 July)
Prof Whitty said it was crucial that from 19 July in England, people "take things incredibly slowly" - adding that he anticipated most people would still take precautions.
Almost all legal restrictions on social contact will be removed in England from 19 July. Nightclubs will be allowed to reopen for the first time since March last year and capacity limits will be removed for all venues and events.
What did Chris Whitty say?
Speaking at a webinar hosted by the Science Museum, Prof Whitty said: “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.”
Prof Whitty said the key on July 19 was “to take things incredibly slowly”, adding that he fully expected most people to continue to take precautions.
“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.
Prof 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."