Sajid Javid has warned that Covid cases could get as high as 100,000 cases a day this summer, as he admitted numbers will “rise significantly” after all remaining Covid restrictions are eased in a fortnight.
It comes as Boris Johnson unveiled the government’s next steps on 19 July, with plans to scrap all social distancing measures and lift the mandatory requirement to wear face masks on public transport and shops – despite protests from regional mayors.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the new health secretary described the situation as “unchartered territory”, but also stressed link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths had been “severely weakened” due to the vaccination effort.
According to the latest government figures there were 27,334 positive cases recorded on Monday, with 358 patients admitted to hospital and nine deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
Mr Javid reiterated the prime minister’s comment yesterday that the government expects case numbers by 19 July — the date remaining sectors of the economy will be opened — will be around 50,000 new cases per day.
But he added: “As we ease and go into the summer, we expect them to rise significantly and could go as high as 100,000 case numbers.
“What matters more than anything is hospitalisation and death numbers and that is where the link is really weak.”
Quizzed on how 100,000 daily Covid case numbers could translate into hospitalisations, however, Mr Javid claimed the government had not “put numbers on hospitalisations”.
“We have models that we look at internally, we take the best advice there is out there, but what we have seen is a severe weakening in the link,” he said.
“The link hasn’t broken, nobody is pretending it has, there isn’t enough evidence for that yet, but what have seen is a very severe weakening.
“At the moment we’re seeing around 25,000 new cases a day. The last time we saw numbers like that — 25,000 cases a day — we sadly had deaths of around 500 a day and now we’re at about one thirtieth of that and that is because the impact of the vaccine number one but also the impact of the treatments.”
Questioned on his comment made just last week that the government wanted the easing of restrictions to be “irreversible”, Mr Javid said he “hoped” legal restrictions would not have to return.
“As I said yesterday there are some powers that we are retaining, particularly for local authorities to manage any future outbreak, but the one thing no-one can say for certain anywhere in the world is the future progression of the virus itself.
“We’ve seen how there’s been variants already… but there may be and no one knows this, but there may be a variant that comes out in the future that is vaccine resistant, which means by definition that this wall of defence we’ve built is no longer going to be there for us. We have to of course remain vigilant.”
His remarks came as professor Neil Ferguson, a government scientific adviser, described the government’s move to ease restrictions a “slight gamble” but also said that policy was “justifiable” and would have to remain “flexible”.
“If we end up in something close to the worst-case scenario we and other groups are looking at, which I think is unlikely but can’t be ruled out, then yes there will need to be some course direction later,” he said.
Professor Ferguson added: “At the peak of the second wave 50,000 cases would translate into something like 500 deaths, but that’s going to be much lower this time, more like 50 or so.
“The challenge is, there’s still the potential of getting very large numbers of cases and so if we get very high numbers of cases a day, 150,000 or 200,000 it could still cause some pressure to the health system.
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