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The UK could see 100,000 Covid cases a day by the summer, new Health Secretary Sajid Javid said today – as scientists said a full winter lockdown can't be ruled out.
It comes after Boris Johnson last night announced the lifting of Covid restrictions will go ahead in two weeks' time.
This morning Mr Javid, who replaced disgraced Matt Hancock just over a week ago, said that the link between cases and deaths and hospitalisations are being "severely weakened".
He said that the number of daily cases could soar as high as 100,000 per day through the summer.
Meanwhile Prof Neil Ferguson, whose dire death models prompted the first lockdown last year, said Covid rules may have to return if the PM's "slight gamble" does not pay off.
Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “By the time we get to [July] 19 we would expect case numbers by then to be at least double what they are now, so around 50,000 new cases a day.
“As we ease and go into the summer, we expect them to rise significantly and they could go as high as 100,000 case numbers.
“We want to be very straightforward about this in terms of what we can expect from case numbers.
Mr Javid said the link between cases and deaths appears to be weakened
(Image: Getty Images)
“But what matters more than anything is hospitalisation and death numbers and that is where the link is being severely weakened.”
Surging cases of coronavirus pose a 'significant risk' meaning restrictions would have to make a return, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies [SAGE] has said.
It said in a report: "Stronger measures may be desirable for autumn and winter."
Prof Ferguson said: "This is a slight gamble, it’s a slight experiment at the moment. I think it’s justifiable and I’m reasonably optimistic.
"[But] policy will have to remain flexible.
"If we end up in something close to the worst-case scenario, we and other groups are looking at, which I think is unlikely but can’t be ruled out, then yes, there may need to be some sort of course correction later."
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In a downbeat assessment SAGE said if a 'variant of concern' was to arrive threatening immunity lockdown would need to return and for longer.
It could mean that the relaxation of Covid restrictions could have to be re-imposed just weeks after they are lifted, with fresh lockdowns by the autumn and into the winter.
On physical distancing, the document says: "Close range transmission [is] likely to be highest individual exposure risk, so explicit measures to address are likely to be beneficial."
It also states: "Even beyond the point when all adults have been offered the vaccine, keeping some level of measures in place both through summer and beyond would significantly decrease ongoing transmission."
The government is expecting Covid cases to rocket in coming weeks
(Image: Getty Images)
The PM and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty admitted lifting restrictions would likely lead to an increase in cases and deaths.
The scientists say another wave would be expected to occur even if the assumed baseline measures reduce transmission by 25 per cent, but that it would be much higher without these.
New cases are currently soaring and are at their highest level since January, and the numbers are believed to be poised to reach 50,000 a day within two weeks.
Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said cases are doubling every nine days, while hospitalisations are "rising quite steeply in some places and we would expect that to continue".
"It's a weakened link, not a completely broken link," he said.
SAGE scientists went on to warn: "It is highly likely that transmission will increase in autumn and winter.
"This may mean that the effectiveness of baseline measures may vary through the year, and they will have to be augmented to have the same impact.
"Lifting restrictions may recreate the conditions for super-spreader events, both person driven (one highly infectious but possibly asymptomatic person going to multiple places) and setting-driven (nightclubs, religious events where crowding is experienced, low ventilation, loud activities etc)."