LOCKDOWN restrictions will have to be reimposed if Covid hospitalisations exceed the daily peak of the first wave, Jeremy Hunt has warned.
The former Health Secretary said the situation was “very serious” and the Government would face “difficult decisions” in the months ahead as hospitalisations rise.
Mr Hunt, who is now chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, told BBC Radio 4: “The warning light on the NHS dashboard is not flashing amber, it is flashing red.
"Covid hospital patients are doubling every two weeks. That means we are heading for 10,000 Covid hospital patients by the end of August, which is about 20 times higher than this time last year. It is a very serious situation.
“I think coming into September we are almost certainly going to see infections reach a new daily peak going above the 68,000 daily level, which was the previous daily record in January.
"If they are still going up as the schools are coming back I think we are going to have to reconsider some very difficult decisions.
"How we behave over the next few weeks will have a material difference."
Mr Hunt’s warning comes as NHS leaders warned that an uptick in hospital admissions could hamper their ability to deal with the backlog in care – with some 5.3 million Brits now awaiting treatment.
One of England's largest hospitals yesterday cancelled all its planned operations for 48 hours due to a lack of beds in intensive care amid a concerning rise in Covid admissions.
University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) NHS Trust, which has more than 1,100 beds, has put dozens of procedures scheduled on hold – including lifesaving liver transplants.
Hospitalisations across the country have seen a slight uptick with 717 recorded yesterday – the highest figure since March 2.
And Britain yesterday recorded 51,870 cases – the highest daily infection tally since January 15.
But fatalities have remained low relative to infection rates with the vaccine acting as a buffer against hospitalisation and severe illness.
The last time the UK recorded 55,553 cases on January 15, there were 1,282 deaths reported and 3,677 hospitalisations. Yesterday, the tally was 49 and 717 respectively.
Over 35 million Brits are now double-jabbed against the disease and more than 46 million adults have received their first dose – offering further protection against the third wave.
On Monday, the Government will lift all legal Covid restrictions with social distancing measures scrapped, large-scale events back on and work-from-home guidance shelved.
But ministers have tempered their ‘Freedom Day’ promises as cases continue to surge, with Boris Johnson last week warning the pandemic was “not over”.
Brits will instead be encouraged to wear masks in crowded spaces and return to the office gradually – while hospitality venues could ask for vaccine passports upon entry.
Ministers hope that voluntary compliance will help drive transmission rates down even as legal restrictions end.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University, said the assessment of England's unlocking on July 19 as a "dangerous, unethical experiment" was "very inaccurate".
He told Times Radio: "The concern at the moment is that the trajectory of hospitalisations and deaths in the UK is upwards, fairly slowly… and we want to see what that trend does
"It's widely accepted the number of cases would increase, we've known this would happen when we unlocked for many months now, we'd expect it…. so 'dangerous, unethical experiment' seems to be a very inaccurate description of what's going on."
Prof Woolhouse, who advises government in both England & Scotland, said he expected all countries to experience an "exit wave" of coronavirus when they came to unlock fully.
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