People facing the toughest new coronavirus restrictions in England could see “significantly” deeper restrictions, the chief medical officer has said.
Professor Chris Whitty said that the flexibility within the new three-tier system of alert levels for England could see “additional” measures guided by local health leaders.
Prof Whitty also said people in areas of England not subject to local lockdown measures should not be lulled into a false sense of security.
Meanwhile Prof Whitty said that curbs to spread the virus were a “balancing act” between harm to health and harm for society and the economy.
“The idea we can do this without causing harm is an illusion,” he said.
But he praised people’s efforts to suppress the virus, and without these the rates would be “substantially higher”.
He also said that the British public “do not tend to get scared” and want to be presented with the worst and work out a plan to tackle the problem.
Prof Whitty told the Downing Street press briefing: “The rates since the middle of August, have been going up steadily in the North East, the North West and parts of Yorkshire and the Humber, at a more moderate rate in the eastern West Midlands and in London, and at a much lower rates currently – but I think we should be not lulled into a false sense of security here – in the South West, the East of England, and the South East.”
When asked about the new measures, he added: “I am very confident that the measures that are currently in place, are helping to slow the virus, and these measures will help to slow it further.
“I am not confident, and nor is anybody confident, that the tier three proposals for the highest rates… if we did the absolute base case, and nothing more, would be enough to get on top of it.
“And that is why there’s a lot of flexibility in the tier three level for local authorities, guided by the directors of public health, to actually go up that range, so that they can do significantly more than the absolute base because the base will not be sufficient.
“There are quite a lot more additional things that could be done within that with local guidance.”
But he praised people’s efforts – such as people having fewer contacts and businesses trying to limit transmission by becoming Covid-secure, adding: “If we had not been doing all the things that everybody is currently doing… the rates that we’re seeing in these graphs would be substantially higher.
“So what people are doing now are significantly reducing the rates compared to where they would have been.
“But what we can see is that we need to go further, or these rates will continue inexorably to rise.”
He added: “My experience as a doctor has been that people in Britain actually do not tend to get scared.
“What they want is people to get them very straight news and know the worst.
“And then discuss what we should do, and then get on a workout a plan for how to do it.”
He said he was “confident” that the nation would get through the crisis but added: “It is a balancing act between two harms – harm for society and the economy on the one hand, and harm for health.
“Getting this right is critical and we’re all trying to find the balance the middle – the really narrow path between these two harms on either side, accepting whatever we do is not going to be easy.”
He added: “I cannot predict, and no one can predict what are the combinations of treatments vaccines diagnostics and other interventions that we will have available to us.
“But I am extremely confident that when we go into next winter we will do so in a remarkably better place.”