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.”
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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.
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.
“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.”
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