Covid-19 has not thrown its last surprise at us, warns Professor Chris Whitty

The latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England shows that case rates in all regions of England are continuing to increase.

Covid-19 has not thrown its last surprise at us, warns Professor Chris Whitty

Covid-19 has “not thrown its last surprise at us”, England’s chief medical officer said, as he warned there will be “several” more to come.

Professor Chris Whitty said the current surge of the virus will “definitely” translate into hospital admissions and “undoubtedly” further deaths.

It comes as the latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England (PHE) shows that Covid-19 case rates in all regions of England are continuing to increase.

PHE said case rates in England among all age groups are continuing to rise and the highest rate is among 20 to 29-year-olds, with 195.9 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to June 13, up week-on-week from 123.6.

This is also the age group to see the biggest week-on-week increase.

“In terms of the medium term, my expectation is that we will get a further winter surge, late autumn/winter surge, and that is because we know that winter and autumn favour respiratory viruses, and therefore it’d be very surprising if this particular highly transmissible respiratory virus was not also favoured,” he said.

Prof Whitty said most people think there will be “further problems over the winter”, adding: “How big they’ll be I think is uncertain, and that partly depends on do we get new variants which can evade vaccines better, and partly depends on how the current wave passes through the UK.

“Then in terms of the medium to longer term, if I look five years out, I would expect us to have polyvalent vaccines which will hold the line to a very large degree against even new variants as they come in and an ability to respond with vaccination to new variants.

“But the period over the next two or three years, I think, new variants may well lead to us having to revaccinate or consider boosting vaccination as they come through.

“So, I think we have to just be aware that Covid has not thrown its last surprise at us and there will be several more over the next period.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“But that will definitely translate into further hospitalisations and, unfortunately, it will undoubtedly translate into further deaths.”

Prof Whitty said there was minimal flu last winter but warned it will be back this winter “unless the Covid situation is so bad that everybody has started to go back to essentially minimising their social contacts again”.

He told the NHS Confed Conference: “So, either we will have a very significant Covid surge, people will minimise their contacts and we will have less respiratory viruses, or people will be back to a more normal life, there will be some Covid but on top of that we will go back to having a flu surge, an RSV surge in children, and so on.

“I think we need to be aware of and brace for the fact that the coming winter may well be quite a difficult one.”

Prof Whitty said it probably will not be on the scale of last winter but that the NHS still has to be braced.

He said there are areas of deprivation which have been repeatedly impacted by Covid-19.

Prof Whitty said: “The geographical areas where Covid has hit have been extremely defined, where the biggest problems have been repeated.

“So, you see in situations in Bradford, in Leicester, in bits of London for example, in bits of the North West, you see repeated areas where places have been hit over and over again in areas of deprivation.

“Indeed in many of them, if you had a map of Covid’s biggest effects now and a map of child deaths in 1850, they look remarkably similar.

“These are areas where deprivation has been prolonged and deeply entrenched.”

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