England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has warned that the country is not yet out of the COVID-19 woods and that the crisis could return again surprisingly quickly.
Whitty spoke Thursday, few days to the 19 July plan to lifting of pandemic restrictions.
In lifting the restrictions, government said a rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death.
But Whitty said that the doubling time for hospitalisations was currently 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,” he said in a webinar late on Thursday hosted by the Science Museum.
“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.”
Britain has had among the highest death tolls in the world but two-thirds of its adult population have been fully vaccinated.
Prime Minister Boris 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.
Johnson acknowledges a wave of infections and more deaths are inevitable when restrictions end, but said worse harm would come from keeping the economy shut.
However, the self-isolation requirement for people exposed to positive cases could hinder the economy too, with over 48,000 cases reported on Thursday.
Over 520,000 contact tracing alerts were sent through the app in the week to July 7.