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Covid Hospitalisations Are Still Just Below The First Peak, Chris Whitty Warns As Lockdown Roadmap Announced

Professor Chris Whitty warned against complacency as Boris Johnson outlined his roadmap for England to move out of lockdown (PA)

5 min read

The government’s chief medical adviser has warned hospitalisations from Covid-19 are still only just below the April peak as Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown was announced.

Professor Chris Whitty told a Downing Street press conference the data showed "there is a significant fall that is continuing” on the number of people needing hospital treatment for the disease, but “the rates are still high”.

The number of patients in hospital now is still above 20,000, just below the peak seven-day average of 21,200 at the height of the first wave of the pandemic last spring.

It comes after the Prime Minister said due to the success of the "unparalleled" programme of vaccination "we're now travelling on a one-way road to freedom”, beginning with schools reopening on 8 March.

There will then be at least five weeks until the next significant unlocking, with shops, hairdressers and salons re-open, as well as outdoor hospitality from 12 April at the earliest.

But warning against complacency in dealing with coronavirus, Professor Whitty explained why the gap was needed.

"The reason for that is that inevitably for each one of these steps we are taking a risk which is an accepted risk – there is a risk to this, and everybody in the country I'm sure understands this.

"But I think the big worry is, have things got slightly worse than we were expecting, and we cannot measure that in less than about four weeks because it takes that long for the effect to be seen and the data to come through and be analysed.

"So that's the reason for the five-week gap, because it allows us to see whether it's had an effect and then to make a judgment as to whether that's material to making the next decision."

His comments came after the PM said it was time for vaccinations to start replacing curbs on liberty.

"We cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that have separated families and loved ones for too long, threatened the livelihoods of millions, kept pupils out of school," he said.

"Thanks to the vaccinations there is light ahead, leading us to a spring and a summer, which I think will be seasons of hope, looking and feeling incomparably better for us all.”Johnson was speaking to the nation after outlining his “cautious but irreversible” plan to bring the country out of lockdown in the Commons.

The eagerly awaited four-phase ‘Roadmap to Recovery’ will begin with the easing of restrictions on 8 March, when schools will reopen and care home visits can begin again.

The first phase will also allow people to start socialising outdoors, meaning up to six people or two households of any number of people can meet up in parks or private gardens from March 29.

Each phase after that will begin after a minimum of five weeks, meaning pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers outdoors from 12 April at the earliest, though without the need for a ‘substantial meal’ to be served alongside alcohol.  

Non-essential retail and personal care including hairdressers could also open their doors on the same date. 

Phase three, which will start no earlier than 17 May, will see indoor mixing allowed for the first time, as well as indoor hospitality and entertainment venues, and the fourth and final phase from 21 June will see all legal limits on social contact hopefully removed.But the government said moving between phases will depend on an assessment based on four tests:

  • The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully.
  • Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.
  • Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
  • The assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new 'variants of concern'.

The PM also announced four reviews are taking place into when certain freedoms may be allowed, including one into whether “Covid status certificates” could be used by hospitality and events venues in the future. 

But hospitality groups have expressed dismay over the government's decision to delay the re-opening of indoor hospitality until the end of Spring and have warned that thousands of pubs and restaurants will need major financial support to survive.

The multi-billion pound hair and beauty industry has cautiously welcomed confirmation salons can re-open in April, after months of feeling like they're treated as a “hobby” and not a business by government.

Millie Kendall, the chief executive of the British Beauty Council, told PoliticsHome financial support for the final weeks of the third lockdown is now desperately needed, and is renewing her call on the Chancellor Rishi Sunak to reduce VAT to five percent for salons and introduce a grant scheme for businesses which are now extremely cash poor.This afternoon new documents published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) found even a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions is likely to lead to 30,000 more deaths by Summer 2022 because many people will remain vulnerable to the virus.

It comes after scientists from Imperial College London and Warwick University modelled varying speeds for lifting lockdown measures and their impact on hospitalisations and deaths.

The report, published by a sub-group of Sage known as SPI-M-O, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational, found even the most optimistic scenario for exiting lockdown would result in a third-wave of infections.

It comes after Johnson told MPs there was "no credible route to a zero Covid Britain" but insisted restrictions could not be kept in place indefinitely.

It came after Johnson received good news when a new study found a "substantial reduction" in the risk of hospital admissions among Scottish people who have received the two main vaccines.

The research showed four weeks after receiving a first dose of either the Pzifer/BioNTech and Oxford AstraZeneca jabs there was a reduced risk of hospitalisation from the virus by 85 per cent and 94 per cent respectively.

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