Britain’s chief medical officers say entire country should move to Level 4
UK warned it could have 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by mid-October
A person is tested at a coronavirus testing centre in Leeds on Monday. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The UK is on course for up to 50,000 new cases of Covid-19 per day by mid-October, which could lead to 200 deaths a day by the following month.
The medical officers said: “The Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended that the Covid-19 alert level should move from Level 3 (a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation) to Level 4 (a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially).
“The CMOs for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have reviewed the evidence and recommend all four nations of the UK should move to Level 4.
“After a period of lower Covid cases and deaths, the number of cases are now rising rapidly and probably exponentially in significant parts of all four nations.
“If we are to avoid significant excess deaths and exceptional pressure in the NHS and other health services over the autumn and winter everyone has to follow the social distancing guidance, wear face coverings correctly and wash their hands regularly.
“We know this will be concerning news for many people; please follow the rules, look after each other and together we will get through this.”
Earlier, the British government’s chief medical adviser has warned said the country should be prepared for significant restrictions for the next six months, over the winter period where the virus can be expected to flourish.
Dr Whitty said mortality rates from Covid-19 were “significantly greater” than seasonal flu, which has killed around 7,000 annually in the UK, or 20,000 in a bad year.
“This virus is more virulent than flu so the numbers people talk about are not unreasonable numbers for us to be thinking about,” he said, and while treatment was improving it could not take mortality down to “trivial” levels.
Dr Whitty, speaking at a media briefing alongside Britain’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said: “If this continues along the path, the number of deaths directly from Covid could rise on an exponential curve, and you can move from small numbers to really very large numbers.
“We have in a bad sense, literally turned a corner, although only relatively recently. At this point, the seasons are against us, we are now going into the seasons, late autumn and winter, which benefit respiratory viruses and it is very likely they will benefit Covid as they do flu.”
Dr Whitty said the resurgence of the virus should be seen as “a six-month problem that we have to deal with collectively”. He said it would not be an indefinite problem and that “science will in due course ride to our rescue” – a hint at the progress of a vaccine.
“But for the next six months we have to realise that we have to take this collectively very seriously,” he said. Dr Whitty said there was “no evidence” that the new resurgence was a milder form of the virus.
Dr Vallance said the epidemic was doubling “roughly every seven days” and said government modelling showed that would mean around 50,000 cases per day by mid-October. That in turn, would lead to 200 deaths per day by mid-November.
“There is a simple message – as the disease spreads, across age groups, we expect to see increase in hospitalisation ... which will lead to an increase in deaths,” he said.
Dr Vallance said there had been an increase in positive cases across all age groups, which was not down to increased testing.
Citing an Office of National Statistics study, he said it was now estimated that roughly 70,000 in the UK have a Covid-19 infection and around 6,000 a day are getting the infection.
He said being infected with Covid-19 previously was “not an absolute protection” and the vast majority of the population was not immune. The antibody response “fades over time” he said, pointing to some cases of reinfection.
No questions were permitted after the statement from Dr Whitty and Dr Vallance, but a statement from prime minister Boris Johnson is expected on Tuesday, laying out any further restrictions and enforcement for the coming months. – Agencies