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Boris Johnson could be forced to order new Covid lockdown curbs in five weeks, Chris Whitty has warned just days before Monday's "Freedom Day".
The Chief Medical Officer sounded the alarm over a potential "scary" growth in hospitalisations which could leave the NHS "in trouble again surprisingly fast" once restrictions are lifted.
The top medic said if hospital admissions begin doubling and the jabs rollout was not "topping out" the pandemic, in "five, six, seven eight weeks' time" the Prime Minister may need to "look again" at restrictions.
It comes after Mr Johnson insisted Brits must "learn to live with Covid" and ignored calls to keep the legal requirement for face masks in enclosed spaces beyond Sunday.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty
Speaking at a British Science Museum event, Professor Whitty underlined that epidemics are "either doubling or they're halving", adding: "And currently this epidemic is doubling. It's doubling in cases. It is also doubling in people going to hospital, and it's doubling in deaths."
Covid hospital admissions in England climb to highest level for four months
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He said that the doubling time for hospital cases was "around three weeks" and while the number of hospitalisations was "mercifully much lower", it was "not trivial".
He said: "We've still got over 2000 people in hospital, and that number is increasing.
"If we double from 2000 to 4000, from 4000 to 8000, to 8000 and so on, it doesn't take many doubling times till you're into very very large numbers indeed."
Professor Whitty added that medics could soon be faced with "scary numbers again", adding: "I don't think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again, surprisingly fast."
He added that more people could be fighting the disease in hospital "in five, six, seven, eight weeks' time", and went on: "They could actually be really quite serious… at that point if it looks as if things are not topping out, we do have to look again and see where we think things are going. "
The latest Test and Trace figures showed 194,005 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England in the week to July 7, up 43% on the previous week.
It is the highest number since late January.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said last week that daily infection numbers could climb as high as 100,000 this summer.
Dr Kevin Fong, a consultant anaesthetist and national clinical adviser to NHS England’s emergency preparedness resilience and response team for Covid, also warned the Government it was "beholden upon us to monitor very closely" the impact on the NHS.
He said: "Let's be clear. Infection numbers are rising, and the hospital admission rate is rising ,ICU occupancy is rising, albeit more slowly than it has in the past.
"The curse of this whole thing is that we have to be perpetually vigilant.
"We have to monitor the situation.
"We have to be prepared to change our minds if the data changes. We have to be prepared to act and it's difficult
"It's difficult because we've seen two, three waves already, and we know a little bit about this, but that's not how it works, the situation is so complicated that all we can do now is watch it like a hawk and have the courage to act if we need to act.
"That's what leadership is."