COVID-19 crisis could return quickly as infections surge, UK adviser warns

LONDON (Reuters) -England’s coronavirus crisis could return again surprisingly quickly and the country is not yet out of the woods, the British government’s chief medical adviser said, as infections surged ahead of the lifting of legal restrictions.

FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty looks on at a news conference as he gives an update on relaxing restrictions imposed on the country during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic inside the Downing Street Briefing Room in London, Britain July 12, 2021. Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool via REUTERS

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is removing most pandemic restrictions in England from July 19, saying a rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death.

Johnson has said he is reconciled to more deaths from COVID-19 but that the summer is the best time to reopen and that continued lockdown would impact lives and livelihoods.

Daily reported cases are over 40,000 for the first time since January, and a closely watched prevalence survey showed that as many as 1 in 95 people in England might have been infected with COVID-19 in the week to July 10.

“We are not by any means out of the woods yet on this,” Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said late on Thursday during a webinar hosted by the Science Museum bit.ly/3z5Zs0i.

He added that the doubling time for hospitalisations was around three weeks, and that low numbers of people in hospital with COVID-19 currently could rise to serious levels over the next couple of months.

“It doesn’t take many doublings until we’re in actually quite scary numbers again … I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast,” Whitty said.

Britain’s COVID-19 death toll is among the highest in the world but two-thirds of its adult population have been fully vaccinated.

Johnson is urging people to be cautious as England moves to Step 4 – the end of legal lockdown curbs – on Monday. This means the last remaining businesses still closed, including nightclubs, can finally reopen.

The self-isolation requirement for people exposed to positive cases could hinder the economy, however.

Over 520,000 contact tracing alerts were sent through the National Health Service app in the week to July 7, and Karan Bilimoria, president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said it was a seriously concerning situation.

“On Monday we’re going to have a situation where on the one hand we’re opening up the economy, on the other hand we’re closing down the economy,” he told LBC radio.

“The hospitality sector, 20% of staff are isolating, the health service up to 25% of staff are absent, and buses and trains delayed. This cannot go on … This is wrecking the economy.”

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