COVID-19: UK's third wave may not peak until 'late August, early September', minister says

The third wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK is not expected to peak until "late August, maybe even early September", a minister has said.

Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News' Trevor Phillips on Sunday that cases are still rising, with more than 50,000 reported in each of the last two days.

He revealed the current government projection while encouraging people to keep the NHS COVID-19 app installed on their phones with contact tracing enabled.

It comes after Downing Street announced that Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak would not be isolating despite coming into contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who has tested positive for coronavirus.

The pair later U-turned and confirmed they would in fact be self-isolating in the normal way.

Mr Jenrick said: "I would urge people to ensure they have the NHS app on their phones, that it's fully switched on.

"We're actually seeing more people download the app than ever before, so the evidence is positive. But then if you do get contacted by track and trace, of course, to follow all of the steps that are required.

"Because it is a really important part of our toolkit for tackling the virus at this critical stage as cases are still rising, hospitalisations are increasing.

"And we won't really expect this wave of the virus to peak until late August, maybe even early September. So there are going to be some quite challenging weeks ahead."

Cases during the second wave in winter peaked at 68,053 on 8 January. Figures from last spring's first wave are less comparable as mass testing was not available.

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Despite Mr Jenrick stressing the need for caution and cases at their highest level since mid-January, coronavirus restrictions are due to end in England on Monday.

Labour's shadow heath secretary Jonathan Ashworth said going ahead with the plan with infections so prevalent in society could lead to mutations that may make the virus less susceptible to vaccines.

"When you have a pool of infections in society and an increasing level of infection and a partially vaccinated population, you're putting a selection pressure on the virus to mutate," he said.

"The big risk is we could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, if you like, and be set back and the vicious cycle starts again."

He added that the government was "effectively putting their foot down on the accelerator and throwing off the seat belt".

The Labour shadow minister said if they were in power, his party would put in place measures to "break transmission chains".

Mr Ashworth added: "Precautionary measures like mask wearing, like encouraging people to work from home, like paying people decent sick pay are not being implemented."

It comes as Professor Neil Ferguson, who is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said the UK hitting a 100,000 new cases a day "is almost inevitable".

After caveating that it was "very difficult to make precise predictions", he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I think it's almost certain we'll get to 1,000 hospitalisations per day."

"It'll almost certainly get to 100,000 cases a day," he added.

"The real question is, do we get to double that or even higher? And that's where the crystal ball starts to fail. We could get to 2,000 hospitalisations a day, 200,000 cases a day, but it's much less certain."