COVID-19: Latest figures are 'evidence' of third wave and reopening should be delayed, says former govt scientific adviser

·4-min read

A former chief scientific adviser to the government has said the current COVID-19 figures are "evidence of another wave appearing".

Sir David King told Sky News: "[There are] 5,300 new cases of the disease per day in the United Kingdom and we're up about 2,000 on last week.

"Now we've been discussing whether or not we're going into a serious third wave and I don't think we can possibly wait any longer. This is the evidence of another wave appearing."

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Around 400 infections a day are among people who have had both vaccines, said Sir David, who is the chair of the Independent Sage Group.

He said: "We know that anyone vaccinated twice is relatively safe against the virus.

"But let's not forget one in 25 new cases are people who have been vaccinated twice - that means 400 new cases a day are people who had the vaccine twice."

He also called on ministers to delay the proposed 21 June easing of lockdown in England.

"[On] the number of people in our hospitals, which the government says is relatively stable, it's 932 per day going into hospital, which is up 65 from last week. It's not actually stable, it is slowly rising," he said.

"What all of this means is that intensive care is needed for a significant proportion of our population today.

"I'm very reluctant to say that we should not go out of lockdown on June 21, but I think the figures are in now, and it will be wise for the government to announce right away a delay in opening, just so that we can all plan for the post-June 21 period."

When asked for how long, he replied: "I would give a few weeks' delay and see how the figures are emerging.

"So, I don't know how long.

"As the prime minister has said, it's data, not dates, that we should be governed by, and that's response as well."

Doctors fear easing coronavirus restrictions too soon will be a "recipe for disaster" amid warnings NHS staff are "terrified" about the impact reopening will have on the healthcare system.

Some frontline workers have said the health service is still "on its knees" and at higher capacity than usual.

Dr Megan Smith, who is also legal and policy officer for campaign group EveryDoctor, said: "Everyone in the NHS at the moment is kind of terrified."

She added the NHS is under pressure dealing with issues from the first waves of the pandemic and could not cope with even a small spike in COVID patients.

"Now patients have presented and a lot of them are presenting in a worse state," she said.

"We've heard of hospitals effectively closing their waiting lists, which is unheard of.

"Without question, there should be a pause. And in my view, there should be a look at whether there needs to be backtracking and have more restrictions in place.

"Obviously, that is a deeply unpopular thing to say."

Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at University of Cambridge, has warned that people should not forget the virus is still "on its way to mutating and becoming better at avoiding our defences".

He told BBC Breakfast: "The more transmissions that are allowed to happen, the greater the chance of these new added variants arising.

"We are not achieving the limitation of new infections in the way that we need to remain fully open as a society in the long term.

"I think that to go completely back to normal may not be in everyone's best interests.

"The views of scientists such as myself and others reflects the fact that we want this to be the last lockdown that we ever go into, and we do not want to go into a reverse situation which would be much more damaging to the economy, people's businesses and long-term welfare."

Downing Street's position remains unchanged, but it has said the data emerging over the coming week will be "crucial" in deciding whether all legal coronavirus restrictions can end as hoped on 21 June.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said "we do need to look very closely at the data over this coming week, which will be crucial to decide and really to get a sense of the data" linked to hospitalisations and the ongoing vaccine programme.

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