High COVID death toll will continue for a number of weeks, says Patrick Vallance in stark warning

People walk past a 'Stay Home Save Lives' government sign on Commercial road in Portsmouth during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
People walk past a COVID warning sign on Commercial Road in Portsmouth. (Getty)

A “pretty grim period” for COVID will see the death toll continue to rise for weeks, the UK government’s top scientist has warned.

Speaking on the day that the daily reported death toll reached a new high, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said “we’re in a period of high death numbers” which will not “reduce quickly”.

According to government data, there were 1,564 deaths recorded within 28 days of a positive test on Wednesday, the highest figure reported in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest figures mean the grim milestone of more than 100,000 deaths involving coronavirus has now been passed in the UK, according to official data.

Speaking to ITV’s Peston programme, Vallance said: “The daily numbers jump around a bit but I think we are in a position now – when you look at the number of infections we’ve had over the past few weeks and how this is likely to continue, so I don’t think they’re going to drop very quickly – that I’m afraid we’re in a period of high death numbers that’s going to carry on for some weeks.

“It’s not going to come down quickly even if the measures that are in place now start to reduce the infection numbers.

“So we’re in for a pretty grim period, I’m afraid.”

Vallance’s comments come just days after chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned that the UK has not yet hit the peak of the current wave of COVID infections, with the next few weeks being “the worst” of the pandemic for the NHS.

During a BBC phone-in on the current high case rates, Whitty said: “I don’t think we’re yet at the peak, I’m afraid.”

Watch: Next few weeks will be the worst for the NHS, says Chris Whitty

He said the the new variant of coronavirus was causing a “significant problem”, adding: “We will get through together, but at this point in time we’re at the worst point in the epidemic for the UK.”

Despite the gloomy predictions, Boris Johnson pointed to figures that showed “promising signs” of a decrease in hospital admissions.

According to NHS England statistics cited by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), hospital admissions of patients who have tested positive for coronavirus in London and the South East have fallen for the first time since Christmas.

A pedestrian walks past a COVID-19 information display sign outside Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool, northwest England, on January 7, 2021 as the Clap for Carers resumed as 'Clap for Heroes', to show thanks to key workers, including Britain's NHS (National Health Service) workers and other frontline medical staff, for their work during the coronavirus pandemic. - Medical chiefs in England raced to boost treatment capacity on Thursday as a surge in coronavirus cases risked overwhelming hospitals, even as the government stepped up its mass inoculation campaign. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby / AFP) (Photo by LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images)
Hospital admissions in some parts of the country have decreased slightly. (Getty)

Commenting on the encouraging figures, the prime minister told the Commons on Wednesday: “We are now seeing – and it’s very, very important to stress that these are early days – we are now seeing the beginnings of some signs that [lockdown] is starting to have an effect in many parts of the country – but by no means everywhere.”

Vallance also said current rules are having some impact on the numbers.

While not ruling out further restrictions, Vallance said: “I think we follow these, the evidence we have so far is this is beginning to work, holding it flat, beginning to potentially push it down.

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 13: Raindrops fall on social distancing signs on the near deserted streets of Manchester during lockdown three on January 13, 2021 in Manchester, United Kingdom. On Monday January 4th England entered its third lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Schools and colleges moved to online learning, mixing with people outside households and bubbles was curtailed and non-essential food shops closed. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Raindrops fall on social distancing signs on the near deserted streets of Manchester during lockdown three. (Getty)

“We need to monitor it and you know it may be that we need more on top of this at some point, I’m absolutely not ruling that out.

“It may be that we need more on top of this, and I think those obviously are decisions that ministers would need to make.

“But I think at the moment the evidence is that this is having an effect.”

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown