UK could face 50,000 new coronavirus cases by mid-October, warns government’s chief scientific adviser

Screen grab of the government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance speaking at a Downing

Screen grab of the government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance speaking at a Downing Street briefing to explain how the coronavirus is spreading in the UK and the potential scenarios that could unfold as winter approaches. - Credit: PA

Sir Patrick Vallance said the “vast majority of the population remain susceptible” to catching coronavirus and the current situation required swift action to bring the case numbers down.

In a televised press conference together with England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, Sir Patrick said there was “no doubt” the UK was in a situation where the numbers were increasing among all age groups.

He said: “At the moment, we think that the epidemic is doubling roughly every seven days.”

Prof Whitty said there was a need to “break unnecessary links” between households and there was a need to “change course”.

He suggested that a rise in hospital inpatient cases indicated the potential for an exponential increase in deaths if allowed to carry on unabated.

He said that since the start of September, inpatient cases were doubling at around the same rate as infections, every seven or eight days.

“Now what that tells us is that if this carried on unabated - these numbers are relatively small, we’re talking about around 200 at the moment - but if this continued along the path that Patrick laid out, the number of deaths directly from Covid... will continue to rise, potentially on an exponential curve, that means doubling and doubling and doubling again.

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“And you can quickly move from really quite small numbers to really very large numbers because of that exponential process.

“So we have, in a bad sense literally turned a corner, although only relatively recently.”

Professor Whitty hinted at curbs to social lives being needed to prevent coronavirus spiralling out of control.

“You cannot in an epidemic just take your own risk, unfortunately you’re taking a risk on behalf of everybody else. It’s important that we see this as something we have to do collectively,” he said.

He said the four things to do are reducing individual risk by washing hands and using masks, quarantine measures, and investing in vaccines and drugs.

“The third one, and in many ways the most difficult, is that we have to break unnecessary links between households because that is the way in which this virus is transmitted,” he said.

“And this means reducing social contacts whether they are at work, and this is where we have enormous gratitude to all the businesses for example who have worked so hard to make their environments Covid-secure to reduce the risk, and also in social environments.

“We all know we cannot do this without some significant downsides.

“This is a balance of risk between if we don’t do enough the virus will take off - and at the moment that is the path we’re clearly on - and if we do not change course we are going to find ourselves in a very difficult problem.”

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