Britain faces a winter surge of coronavirus after the current wave of infections dies down, the country's chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, has told National Heath Service (NHS) staff.
Prof Whitty said the vaccination programme, which will see all adults able to book a first dose from Friday, meant that the next surge would be less serious in terms of hospitalisations and deaths.
“My expectation is that we will get a further late autumn or winter surge. That is because we know that winter and autumn favour respiratory viruses and therefore it would be very surprising if this particular highly transmissible respiratory virus was not also favoured,” he told the NHS Confederation.
Prof Whitty was speaking as Britain reported more than 11,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest daily figure since February.
Almost all new cases in Britain are the Delta variant of the virus, and the country now has the highest case rate in Europe with 82.7 cases per 100,000 people.
Prof Whitty said polyvalent vaccines offering protection from different strains of the virus would be developed in about five years, but that revaccination and booster shots would be needed over the next year or two.
“We have to just be aware Covid has not thrown its last surprise at us, and there will be several more over the next period,” he said.
A study published on Thursday suggests that although the epidemic in England is growing, its pace of growth is slowing. The React-1 study found that the rise in cases is being driven by younger people who have not yet been vaccinated.
"We can take quite a lot of comfort from the fact that when we look in the details it does appear that there is very, very good protection in the older ages, where there is virtually everyone double vaccinated," the study's director, Paul Elliott, told the BBC.
“The government has clearly announced that they want to vaccinate all adults in the period between now and July 19th. That will make a very big difference and increase the total amount of population immunity.”
Boris Johnson this week postponed the next stage of reopening from June 21st to July 19th, although that date could be brought forward by two weeks if the epidemic starts to subside.
Although 79 per cent of British adults have already received their first vaccination dose, that figure is 68 per cent in London, and the uptake is lower in some of the capital’s poorer boroughs.
Jeremy Brown, professor of respiratory infection at University College London Hospitals and a member of the body that advises the government on vaccines, said hospitalisations in the city could reach the same levels as in January.
“What that would mean is that in the areas where the uptake has been poor, you’ll get more infection occurring in the community,” he told Times Radio.
“There’s certainly a risk that there could be a significant wave that locally in those places might translate into something which might approach what happened in January. I would really sincerely hope not.”