England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has advised people in Covid hotspots not to “tear the pants out of it” when using the new freedoms they have this week.
Speaking at a Downing Street briefing on Wednesday, Prof Van-Tam urged a “cautious” approach to socialising in the coming weeks as the Government faces a “straight race” between the transmissibility of the virus and the vaccine rollout.
England advanced to step three of four on the Government’s road map out of lockdown on Monday, meaning people can now meet with up to 30 people outside or in groups of up to six indoors, including at indoor hospitality venues.
This includes areas like Bolton and Bedford which have seen the highest levels of Covid-19, thought to be driven by the more transmissible Indian variant.
When asked if he would advise people in areas such as Bolton with high coronavirus rates against taking advantage of new freedoms, Prof Van-Tam said: “I would advise the residents in those areas to think very carefully about the freedoms they have, weigh up the risks and be very cautious.
“It is possible to do something outside, better to do it outside. If it is possible to do something with smaller numbers, with people you know rather than multiple new contacts, it’s better to do that. Take it steady.
“I think I’ve said ‘don’t tear the pants out of it’ once before from this or a similar podium, but frankly we’re back to that again now.
“The Government has given people freedoms to start to make these judgments for themselves and I understand that we can’t live for years and years on end with rules, people will have to learn to manage these risks from Covid for themselves because this is not going to go away in the short term, medium term and probably the long term.”
Prof Van-Tam went on to describe fighting the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus as a “straight race” between the transmissibility of the virus and the vaccine rollout.
He told the Downing Street press conference: “I pitch this personally as a straight race between the transmissibility of this new variant… and vaccine delivery.
“The NHS is doing everything it can to turbo-boost that, and that is the challenge that’s ahead of us in the next two to three to four weeks, to make sure that we outrun the virus through really vigorous pull-through on vaccine delivery.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the conference that the vast majority of coronavirus cases were in younger and unvaccinated people.
He said: “We are seeing the vast majority of cases, both of the existing variant and of the B1617.2 variant, amongst younger groups and unvaccinated people.
“On the one hand that is actually a good sign as it implies the vaccine is working effectively, but obviously we don’t want to see a huge increase in the number of cases everywhere.
“We have said all along that we expect some increase in cases, of course, younger people, who are much more likely to be those yet to be vaccinated, are much less affected in terms of hospitalisations and deaths, and that core fact about this virus underpins the strategy and road map we have set out.”
Scientists expect that by next week they will know more about the transmissibility of the Indian variant of coronavirus – which is thought to be anywhere between “a few percent” and 50% more transmissible than the Kent variant.