The government should not lift all restrictions on 19 July as the coronavirus pandemic will worsen before it improves, a medical body has warned.
COVID-19 cases are ‘rising dramatically’ as the third wave takes hold with the NHS under increasing pressure, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) said.
It advised people to wear face masks in crowded indoor areas even if Boris Johnson announces they are no longer mandated when restrictions are lifted.
This week, the prime minister said most mitigations against the virus would be dropped when the lockdown ends.
This end date is currently set for 19 July, with final confirmation from the PM due on Monday.
But AoMRC chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she had been “profoundly concerned” over restrictions lifting.
Warning of the pressures already faced by medical staff, she said: “It feels in hospitals and GP surgeries as like the middle of winter in terms of how busy we are, rather than July, which would normally see a very low number of infections.”
She added: “We’ve only just heard in this bulletin about the rising numbers of cases, the rising numbers of people requiring hospital treatment, in intensive care and sadly deaths are starting to rise again, too.
“There seems to be a misapprehension that life will return to normal from then (19 July), and that we can throw away all the precautions, and frankly, that would be dangerous.”
The AoMRC said in a statement: “There is little doubt that things will get worse before they get better.”
Watch: Boris Johnson refuses to say how many COVID deaths he expects this summer
The rate of new coronavirus cases in most areas of England is now back at levels last seen during the winter.
Patient numbers have risen to levels last seen around three months ago.
And there has been a very slight increase in the average number of deaths reported each day of people in England who died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19.
But this is still far below the sort of numbers seen in January and February of this year.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) Government advisory panel told Times Radio that “there is a risk” with the planned 19 July reopening.
He said it was not for him to say whether the reopening should go ahead, but added: “What I will say is it’s a very difficult decision for the Government.”
When it was suggested to him the UK is living in a “bit of an experiment” with lifting most restrictions, he told Times Radio: “In a sense we are.
“But also I think when we compare with most other countries we do have much higher levels of vaccine rates than most other countries.”
Dr Tildesley urged people to ensure they get their second dose of vaccine due to the “much higher” levels of protection it provides against the Delta variant.
He said the risk “should decrease as we go through August and we get more people vaccinated”.
But he added: “But still, there is a risk with July 19 in terms of exposing more people to infection as a result of further reopening.”
On Friday, No 10 suggested that NHS staff could be made exempt from self-isolation if they are ‘pinged’ by the Covid app to help workforce levels.
Prof Stokes-Lampard said it sounded like “a sensible next step”.
What you need to know about COVID-19 variants