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Covid hospitalisations will continue to rise for at least two weeks, England’s government’s chief medical officer warned on Wednesday as Britain’s daily cases breached 100,000 for the second time this month.
Professor Sir Chris Whitty said the country’s Covid crisis “is not over” and that new variants of the disease could arise at any time.
He pointed to the latest data showing that the number of people with Covid in hospitals has been rising, and said this would likely continue for at least two weeks.
The current rise in cases is “currently being driven by Omicron rather than new variants”, he told an audience at a Local Government Association conference, but added: “We need to keep a very close eye on this, because at any point new variants could emerge anywhere in the world, including the UK, obviously, as what happened with the Alpha variant.”
Government dashboard statistics show 102,483 new infections were logged over the last 24 hours, compared to the 91,345 last Wednesday.
Another 194 Covid deaths were reported on Wednesday, up 27 per cent on last week.
Prof Whitty said that death rates were fortunately still low but that hospitalisations meant there was still pressure on the NHS.
Asked about the end of free testing for the public on 1 April, Sir Chris said it was a “trade-off between disparities, because the effects of free testing are probably going to be differential across society, and [there are] very substantial sums that are going into it, which otherwise would be going into other public health issues.
“Ministers have chosen in that balance that they wish to prioritise other things than the free testing, but I don’t think anyone’s got any illusions that there are some downsides to that ... no one’s going to claim an easy answer to this, this is a balancing and is fundamentally a ministerial one.”
However, he said that testing for staff within health and social care was “slightly different” as the risks are greater, and those who are in hospital or care homes are more vulnerable.
Despite the end of free testing, Britain will keep a “significant residual capacity” for spotting new variants, Prof Whitty said.
His comments come on the second anniversary of the day the UK announced a national lockdown.
Although Covid-19 will become less dominant over time, it will remain a “significant problem” for the rest of our lives, he said.
“I’m expecting it to be probably seasonal in the UK, but interspersed at least for the next two or three years by new variants,” he said.
Claims that the pandemic has moved to a stable state are “incorrect”, he said, pointing to Hong Kong where the situation is “the worst it has been at any time”.