The UK’s chief medical officer spoke at a Downing Street press conference on Friday, where he said areas that had seen “a really big surge of the new variant” had “we hope” seen the variant’s peak of infection “already”.
“We expect that the peak of infection has already happened in some parts of the country, particularly the south east, east and London,” Mr Whitty said, before reminding the general public there were still some bleak statistics to come.
He said the parts of England – such as the northwest, northeast and the Midlands – that “went into lockdown later will see their peak of infection later”.
For all areas, Mr Whitty said, it is the case that the peak of hospitalisation occurs “around a week after the peak of infection” due to the gap between people “first getting infected” and “getting ill enough to go to hospital”.
“The peak of hospitalisation in some parts of the country is happening around now,” he said, though he pointed out this was yet to come in northern and southwest England. This is likely due to the fact these regions are home to areas that operated under some of the lightest lockdown restrictions for the longest time, right up until the latest national lockdown was introduced.
Additionally, he said the peak of deaths was still to come in England. “The peak of deaths, I fear, is in the future,” Mr Whitty warned, speaking alongside Boris Johnson and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
It comes as reports in the Mirror yesterday suggested areas in northern England, such as Liverpool, were seeing higher rates of coronavirus infection than “parts of London”.
Mr Whitty did, however, say that “because people are sticking so well to the new guidelines”, he expected the “peak of new hospital admissions will start to come down in most places in the next week to 10 days”.
Quick to jump in, Sir Patrick said the “peak” being discussed was not coming down in a “natural way” but because of measures being enforced by the government – meaning it is wrong to assume a drop in cases anywhere is because the situation is improving.
“This is not a natural peak that is going to come down on its own, it’s coming down because of the measures that are in place” he said. “Take the lid off now, this is going to bubble over for sure.”
Sir Patrick added the peak should not be seen “as a natural turning point of the disease”, rather a “suppressed peak we need to keep an eye on”.
The prime minister also used the news event to announce that one in 20 people in the UK had now been vaccinated against Covid, which amounts to some 3.2 million people.
It comes as the latest government figures indicate the current lockdown is working. While the number of cases in Britain is still increasing, the R number – which takes into account cases, hospitalisations and deaths – is estimated to be between 1.2 and 1.3, compared with 1 and 1.4 last week.
Prof Whitty praised the “enormous efforts by so many people” as the growth in the number of confirmed cases has, at least, slowed.
“We were not sure this was going to be possible with this new variant,” he said at the press conference, “but this demonstrates with the actions everyone has taken we are now slowing this right down and we are hoping that in due course it will start to drop,” he said at the press conference.