The nation’s coronavirus death toll could rise to one million as the pandemic is far from over, a Government adviser has warned.
As Boris Johnson is poised to give the green light for so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19, cases are continuing to soar across the country.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show one in 160 people in England, and one in 100 in Scotland, are thought to have Covid-19 — a 58% rise in one week.
An estimated 332,900 people had the virus in the week ending July 3, which is similar to mid-October levels, one month before the PM declared a second national lockdown.
The vaccine has ‘weakened’ the link between infections and hospitalisations, according to chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
But Johnson was criticised for suggesting it had been ‘broken’ or ‘severed’ when the number of patients is rising, albeit at a slower rate than in previous waves.
Yesterday the Department of Health confirmed another 26 people had died within 28 days of taking a test, bringing the official Covid death toll to 128,425.
But Professor Lucy Easthope, who advises the Cabinet Office and specialises in disaster response, believes the toll will ultimately rise to one million.
She says it is generally accepted that the effects of a pandemic will last between 10 and 15 years but that ministers have shied away from being open about this with the public.
The University of Durham professor told the Times: ‘The issue was about public tolerance of reality and last March it was decided that the public couldn’t handle the truth.’
She added: ‘The problem with a pandemic is that it’s not like a tap and you can’t just turn it off.
‘I don’t think we have been very honest with the public about this. When you are swimming for the shore, it is important to tell people how long the swim is.’
Professor Easthope said the decision to end lockdown on July 19 – including opening nightclubs and lifting capacity caps at large events – is in part political.
As well as having to consider people’s health and the burden faced by hospitals, she said the Government also wants to avoid civil disobedience after well over a year of restrictions.
On top of this, Downing Street also wants to give the economy room to recover and fend off a mental health crisis among young people.
To make matters worse, Professor Easthope, a fellow at the Centre for Death and Society at Bath University, thinks another pandemic could be closer than we think.
She warned that there are ‘much worse things out there’ than Covid-19 and pointed to 21 more serious diseases on the national risk register.
It comes after a recent Opinium poll showed 50% of people wanted to see the lifting of restrictions delayed, compared to 31% who thought it should still go ahead.
The data also showed 73% of respondents thought face-coverings should still be worn on public transport, but they are expected to be made non-compulsory from July 19.
Johnson has been warned it would be ‘dangerous’ to drop all restrictions at once while cases rise, but at a press conference last Monday, he said: ‘If not now, then when?’
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday: ‘We’ve only just heard in this bulletin about the rising numbers of cases, the rising numbers of people requiring hospital treatment, in intensive care and sadly deaths are starting to rise again, too.
‘There seems to be a misapprehension that life will return to normal from then (July 19), and that we can throw away all the precautions, and frankly, that would be dangerous.’
Warning of the pressures already faced by medical staff, she added: ‘It feels in hospitals and GP surgeries as like the middle of winter in terms of how busy we are, rather than July, which would normally see a very low number of infections.’
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The prime minister will review the latest data tomorrow and set out our plans for step four. We need to learn to live with the virus, but caution remains key.
‘The prime minister will urge the public to continue to use their freedoms responsibly, so we do not put at risk the progress we have worked so hard for.’
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