Coronavirus restrictions could return next winter, the UK’s top medics warned as it emerged more than one million people now carry the virus.
Chief medical officer professor Chris Whitty, appearing at a Downing Street press conference, said around one in 50 people are now estimated to have coronavirus across the UK.
Prof Whitty said the numbers mean the risk of Covid-19 running out of control remains “extraordinarily high”.
“The risk at this point in time, in the middle of winter with this new variant, is extraordinarily high,” he said.
He added that the risk level will gradually decrease over time with measures being “lifted by degrees possibly at different rates in different parts of the country, we’ll have to see”.
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) January 5, 2021
“We’ll then get over time to a point where people say this level of risk is something society is prepared to tolerate and lift right down to almost no restrictions at all,” he added.
“We might have to bring in a few next winter, for example, that’s possible, because winter will benefit the virus.”
An ‘invisible shield’
It came as the UK recorded 60,916 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases as of 9am on Tuesday – the highest daily total reported so far.
The government said a further 830 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday.
Boris Johnson, appearing alongside Prof Whitty, vowed to use “every second” of lockdown to put an “invisible shield” around the elderly and vulnerable through a mass vaccination programme.
Mr Johnson said: “When the Office of National Statistics (ONS) is telling us that more than 2% of the population is now infected, and when today we have reported another 60,000 new cases, and when the number of patients in hospitals is now 40% higher than at the first peak in April, I think obviously everybody – you all – want to be sure that we in government are now using every second of this lockdown to put that invisible shield around the elderly and the vulnerable in the form of vaccination and so to begin to bring this crisis to an end.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer, in a TV address to the nation, said Mr Johnson had “serious questions to answer” over his reluctance to introduce another lockdown sooner.
He said: “The virus is out of control, infections are rising sharply, more people are in hospital and, tragically, more people are losing their loved ones.”
He added: “We now need the government to deliver for the British people. We now need a government that’s worthy of the British people.
“That means using this lockdown to establish a massive, immediate, and round the clock vaccination programme.
“To deliver millions of doses a week by the end of the month in every village and town, every high street and every GP surgery.”