UK coronavirus cases will stay high for MONTHS until autumn, say SAGE

Coronavirus cases will stay high for months until autumn after passing 100,000 in two weeks’ time and a new lockdown will be needed by September, experts have warned.

It comes just two days before England is set to ditch most restrictions including social distancing and legal limits of gatherings on Monday – which has been dubbed Freedom Day. 

Professor John Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said that with the lifting of lockdown restrictions in England on Monday the disease would continue to spread.

‘I think this wave of the epidemic will be quite long and drawn out,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 programme. ‘My hunch is that we are looking at a high level of incidence for a protracted period right through the summer and probably through much of the autumn.’

Jeremy Hunt, who is now chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said the situation was ‘very serious’.

‘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,’ he added.

‘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.’

It comes as more than 1,200 ‘Zero Covid’ scientists – who believe that coronavirus should be completely eradicated with global lockdowns and social distancing – accused the UK of ‘endangering the world’ and creating conditions for the emergence of a new variant by pressing on with ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19.

Prof Edmunds said there would be a surge in cases among unvaccinated Britons this summer because the unlocking was coming too early. 

‘We started easing restrictions before everybody was vaccinated. That is going to lead to infections in the unvaccinated people – primarily in this instance the younger individuals. It is inevitable that that was going to happen.’

Prof Edmunds said cases could reach 100,000 a day within weeks because the number of infections has so far been doubling every two weeks.

‘We are at about 50,000 a day now. The epidemic has been doubling roughly every two weeks and so if we allow things as they are for another couple of weeks you could expect it to get to 100,000 cases a day,’ he said.

Experts who met for an emergency summit on Friday compared Freedom Day to a ‘murderous’ policy of ‘herd immunity by mass infection’.

Mr Hunt added: ‘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. 

He said the NHS dashboard’s warning light ‘is not flashing amber, it is flashing red’ and said the way people behave as controls end will be crucial in determining the path of the pandemic over the coming months.

He pointed to the examples of Israel and the Netherlands, which have been forced to reintroduce controls despite high levels of vaccination like the UK.   

Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he wants the lifting of lockdown on so-called ‘freedom day’ to be ‘irreversible’, but in recent days ministers have begun to sound more cautious.

While social-distancing rules in England will come to an end, Government guidelines advise face masks should still be worn in enclosed spaces such as in shops and on public transport, while pubs and bars should be table service only.

Jeremy Hunt (pictured), who is now chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said the situation was 'very serious'

Jeremy Hunt (pictured), who is now chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said the situation was 'very serious'

Jeremy Hunt (pictured), who is now chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said the situation was ‘very serious’

NHS England data showed a record 520,000 alerts were sent by the app last week, telling people they had been in close contact with someone who tested positive

NHS England data showed a record 520,000 alerts were sent by the app last week, telling people they had been in close contact with someone who tested positive

NHS England data showed a record 520,000 alerts were sent by the app last week, telling people they had been in close contact with someone who tested positive

Mr Hunt said the Government needed to make changes to the NHS Covid app amid signs people were deleting it due to the high numbers being ‘pinged’ and told to self-isolate.

‘The risk with that app is that it is beginning to lose social consent and so we should either make it less sensitive or move to a system where you have to get a test when you are pinged.

‘The risk is that if people are deleting the app then you can’t even ping them to ask them to have a test.’

Professor Michael Baker, a member of the New Zealand government’s Covid advisory group, told the Independent his colleagues were ‘amazed’ and ‘astounded’ when the UK decided to remove restrictions despite rising case numbers. 

Professor Stephen Duckett, Australia’s former health secretary, said the UK needed to make sure case numbers were under control before lifting restrictions. 

And Professor Jose M Martin-Moreno, from the University of Valencia in Spain, said: ‘UK policy affects not only UK citizens, it affects the world. We cannot understand why this [unlocking] is happening.’

Professor Christina Pagel, a SAGE member, said Britain’s position as a dominant transport hub put other countries at risk.

Speaking at the online summit, she said: ‘What I’m most worried about is the potential for a new variant to emerge this summer. When you have incredibly high levels of Covid, which we have now in England – and it’s not going to go away any time soon – and a partially vaccinated population, any mutation that can infect vaccinated people better has a big selection advantage and can spread.’ 

William Haseltine, an eminent US scientist renowned for his work on HIV/Aids and cancer at Harvard University, said the UK was now lacking in ‘sensible’ policies and described the strategy of herd immunity as ‘murderous’.

Meanwhile, the Beta variant of the coronavirus spreading in France may evade vaccines, Professor Edmunds warned.

The Government has said travellers returning from France – unlike other amber list destinations – must continue to self-isolate even if they are fully vaccinated.

The SAGE adviser said ministers were right to be concerned because the Beta variant does not react as well to the vaccine.

‘The Beta variant has remained a threat throughout. It is probably less infectious than the Delta variant that is spreading here in the UK at the moment. Where it has an advantage is that it is able to escape the immune response to a better extent,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

‘As the population here becomes more and more immune, the conditions are right then for the Beta variant to get an advantage, so I can understand the concern.

‘Of the variants that are out there and are known about, that one has always been a threat to us. There is some good evidence from South Africa that it can evade the immune response generated by the AstraZeneca vaccine more efficiently.’ 

The move has raised eyebrows because in the seven days to July 14 there were 244,691 Covid cases in the UK, compared with 27,713 in France – while France’s vaccination rates have almost caught up with Britain’s. 

And British holidaymakers have revealed their fury as families are forced to cancel trips after a last-minute reversal of the amber list rule change. 

It means all those travelling to the UK from elsewhere in Europe – including Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria – will have to quarantine even if they’re double jabbed if they take a ferry or Eurostar from France. 

The summer holiday plans of thousands lie in ruins this morning, with people cancelling their planned trips to the Balearic Islands after they were axed from the green list while the cost of flights back from Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca soared nine-fold after last night's announcement

The summer holiday plans of thousands lie in ruins this morning, with people cancelling their planned trips to the Balearic Islands after they were axed from the green list while the cost of flights back from Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca soared nine-fold after last night's announcement

The summer holiday plans of thousands lie in ruins this morning, with people cancelling their planned trips to the Balearic Islands after they were axed from the green list while the cost of flights back from Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca soared nine-fold after last night’s announcement

Johan Lundgren, chief executive of EasyJet, has accused the Government of ‘making it up as they go along and causing confusion and uncertainty’. Meanwhile, the traffic light system has been described as meaningless as other countries stop Britons entering regardless of the Government’s rules.

Charlotte Monier, a French translator living in the UK, had hoped she would be able to spend longer with her family in France without having to quarantine – but has now had to cut the trip short.

And Stephen Gee, who runs a chalet business in the Alps, has been forced to rush back to the coast to try to organise his journey home after originally extending his holiday to make the most of the original rule change.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We’re trying to get back today but we have to do tests for travel in France. If we can pull that together we’ll travel this evening and then our quarantine will start. It is absolutely horrendous.’  

The sudden reversal, which will likely throw thousands of summer holiday plans into disarray, comes just days before the school summer holidays and the July 19 ‘Freedom Day’.

Airline bosses and travel chiefs last night decried the move as another blow to an already under pressure industry.  

Meanwhile, the UK’s non-travel self-isolation rules were in chaos last night after the meat industry claimed its workers had been excused from quarantining if they are ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app.

And the Ministry of Defence revealed 5,200 military personnel are off duty because they are self-isolating, leading MPs to warn the app could endanger national security.

Some NHS trusts are so short-staffed they are letting double-jabbed doctors and nurses work if pinged.  The chaos has forced hospitals to call off operations, factories to cancel shifts and some councils to tell residents bins will not be collected. 

What are the rules for people returning to England from abroad? 

AMBER LIST  

  • Take a Covid-19 test in the three days before you arrive in Britain 
  • Book and pay for day two and day eight Covid-19 tests – to be taken after arrival in England
  • Quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days, and complete a passenger locator form 
  • From July 19, if you are vaccinated, you won’t need to quarantine in England – but you will need to take a test before arriving back in the country, and then another on day two after your return

For arrivals returning from an amber list country, before arriving in England, you must take a private PCR or lateral flow test in the three days before the service on which you will arrive in England departs.

For example, if you travel to England on Friday, you can take the test on or after Tuesday and will need to have the negative result available before boarding on Friday.

Before you arrive in England, you must also book and pay for day two and day eight Covid-19 tests, to be taken after your arrival in England.

But under the Test to Release scheme you can choose to pay for a private Covid-19 test on day five. If the result is negative (and the result of your day two test result was negative or inconclusive), you can end your quarantine.

From 4am on July 19, you will not need to quarantine on arrival in England or take a day eight Covid-19 test, as long as you are fully vaccinated. This means that you have had your final dose of an approved vaccine at least 14 days before the date you arrive in England.

If you are not fully vaccinated under the UK vaccination programme, you will have to quarantine on arrival and take both the day 2 and day 8 tests. If you arrive in England before 4am on July 19, you must follow the current rules, even if you have been fully vaccinated.

*Though France is on the amber list, those arriving in the UK from France will still have to self-isolate for 10 days from Monday – as per Friday’s announcement

RED LIST

  • You can only enter England if you are a British or Irish National, or you have residence rights in the UK
  • Take a Covid-19 test in the three days before you arrive in Britain 
  • Book a quarantine hotel package, including two Covid-19 tests, and fill out a passenger locator form

If you have been in a country or territory on the red list in the last ten days you will only be allowed to enter the UK if you are a British or Irish National, or you have residence rights in the UK. 

You must also take a Covid-19 test in the three days before you arrive and book into a quarantine hotel.

The rate for one adult in one room for ten days (11 nights) is £1,750, while the additional rate for one adult (or child over 11) is £650, and for a child aged 5 to 11 it is £325.

While in the quarantine hotel you must also take two Covid-19 tests. 

GREEN LIST

  • Take a Covid-19 test in the three days before you arrive in Britain
  • Book and pay for a day two Covid-19 test, which will be taken after your arrival in England
  • Complete a passenger locator form

Before arriving in England, you must take a private PCR or lateral flow test in the three days before the service on which you will arrive in England departs. 

You cannot take an NHS test abroad with you to use on yourself before you return. If you are returning to the UK within three days, you can use the result of a Covid-19 test that you take in the UK before you travel – but this must be from a private test provider and not the NHS. 

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