Increase in Covid cases as we ease lockdown is 'inevitable' and will hit young, warns Whitty

A RISE in Covid cases will be inevitable as lockdown is eased, the Chief Medical Officer for England has said.

Professor Chris Whitty said the uptick in cases will affect young people who won't be offered their vaccine for several weeks.

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Speaking at this evening's Downing Street Briefing, Prof Whitty said: "The majority of transmission is in younger age groups who have not been vaccinated.

"So we therefore anticipate that as there is gradual unlocking, in the way the Prime Minister has described, it is inevitable there will be an increase in cases, because those most likely to catch and transmit are in younger groups.

"Vaccination has had a really big impact on helping to protect against people dying of Covid, although it is not complete protection. But it will have less impact on transmission because of this age distribution."

A slide showed that vaccination has reached almost everyone who is at higher risk of Covid death, above the age of 50 years old.

But it has not been offered to those most likely to catch Covid in the first place, who are under 50 years old.

Prof Whitty revealed those in their 20s and 30s typically catch the infection the most.

Over the past several weeks, there has been a decline in case numbers in all age groups other than school children, who returned to class on March 8.


"This is inevitable that as bits of society open up, there will be some increases in transmission", Prof Whitty said.

"We should expect that, that's one thing we should anticipate will happen as opening up occurs."

Prof Whitty said there is a "high likelihood" the lifting of some Covid rules today would cause infection rates to rise, while advising people to stick to mixing outdoors for now.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, also urged Brits to "keep rates down an be sensible as we unlock", stressing that "vaccines are not 100 per cent effective".

The PM said tonight that the lowest number of new infections for six months was recorded yesterday, and deaths and hospital admissions across the UK are continuing to fall.

But he added: “That wave is still rising across the channel and it’s inevitable, as we advance on this road map, that there will be more infections and unavoidably more hospitalisations, and sadly more deaths.”

It comes after a Government minister said England should prepare for a surge in Covid cases as lockdown restrictions are lifted today.

Minister for sport and tourism Nigel Huddleston told Good Morning Britain: "We do expect as the measures ease for there to be a slow uptick in infection rates – that’s naturally to be expected."

As people in England can look forward to mixing with friends and family, Mr Huddleston said today was a “really big day, (for) millions of people across the UK are just dying to get back to the things that they love”.

But he described today’s lockdown easing measures as “cautious baby steps”.

He warned the PM may not be able to press ahead with his plan to end restrictions on June 21 if the public takes liberties with today's easing of curbs on outdoor gatherings.

Experts say even though cases will rise, it shouldn’t cause a spike in severe disease or death, due to vaccines.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (SPI-M), a sub-group of Sage,  told BBC News on Sunday: “This time we have got a very successful vaccination campaign, we have high levels of protection among the vulnerable, we may see cases rise a little bit.

“Hopefully, because we have that high level of protection for the vulnerable population, we won’t see a similar rise in hospital occupancy and rise in deaths.”

Despite half the adult population having received the first dose of a Covid vaccine, experts have urged them to continue following the rules.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said it was “really important” that vaccinated people do not think they are “invincible”.

He said: “They’re protected against severe disease, hospitalisation and death, but they might not be protected against infection after one dose, it takes three or four weeks for the vaccine effects to kick in, and they could potentially still transmit.” 


UNLOCKING AS PLANNED, PM SAYS

Each step of the cautious unlocking roadmap will be measured to assess whether it is safe to move on to the next stage.

Ministers will measure the success of the vaccine rollout, infection rates and the risk of new variants.

There are concerns a third wave of Covid in Europe – believed to be caused by the South African variant – will spill into the UK.

The Prime Minister has admitted what’s seen in Europe tends to hit the UK three weeks later.

But he said on Saturday there is currently no data that threatens the progress of lifting restrictions, and he will be back down the pub “in a few days’ time”, on April 12. 

 

 

FRESH AIR IS BEST

The change in lockdown rules in England today means groups of up to six, or two households, can socialise outdoors, and outdoor sport can start again.

And with a heat wave hitting this week, millions are expected to skive off work to celebrate new freedoms. 

The “stay at home” order has been lifted, allowing people to travel further than just their local area.

Mr Huddleston said there were no restrictions on distance but insisted “this is not a free for all” and people should still be careful.

A new slogan has also been unveiled to stress the importance of keeping social mixing outdoors, where the virus is less likely to spread. 

The slogan “Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air” will be plastered across media. 

TV’s Dr Hilary Jones is narrating an ad campaign urging people to stay outdoors when meeting pals.

The clip, which animates the spread of coronavirus particles between a group of friends meeting indoors compared with in their garden, will be shown for the first time on Monday at 7.15pm on ITV.

On top of this, NHS psychologist Laverne Antrobus will be giving advice on how to deal with friends and family who suggest breaking the rules in a new public information campaign.

Mr Huddleston told Sky News: “The message is it’s outdoors, it’s not indoors yet, so please be sensible.”

Prof Whitty said: “The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors. It is important to remember this as we move into the next phase.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the progress of the vaccine roll-out “must be protected”, adding “when you meet others do so outdoors and keep a safe distance”.

Professor Sir Mark Walport said the “hands, face, space, fresh air” slogan serves as a reminder to people not to “sneak into the house” as restrictions ease.

The former chief scientific adviser to the Government told Times Radio: “We know now that airborne transmission is the most important way which this virus transmits and clearly when you’re outside it gets blown away much more easily.

“And it’s one of the reasons that summer is a safer time for most respiratory viruses.

“We have just come out of a time of year when it takes people a certain amount of persuasion to be outside.

“The bottom line is, there is still quite a lot of infection about and we need to emphasise to people that the relax in the restrictions is outdoors and it doesn’t give people an excuse to sneak into the house.”

While greater outdoor freedoms are now permitted, the Government is still advising people to work from home where possible and minimise the number of journeys they take.

The next step in the roadmap to easing England’s lockdown is April 12, which is earmarked for non-essential shops and hairdressers to reopen.

Outdoor hospitality, including pubs and restaurants, are also set to welcome customers.

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