Professor Chris Whitty said its important we keep the rate of transmission below one or we risk a more severe second wave of coronavirus (Picture: Getty – PA – Downing Street)
A second wave of coronavirus could be ‘more severe’ than the first and spread more rapidly if it hits the UK in winter, England’s chief medical officer has warned.
Every country seeking to ease lockdown measures now must negotiate an ‘extremely difficult balancing act’ to keep the pandemic under control in the months to come, Professor Chris Whitty said. It comes after Boris Johnson told the public in his first daily Downing Street conference since beating Covid-19 that the UK had ‘passed the peak’ of the virus.
In an online Gresham College lecture, Mr Whitty said the virus reproduction rate – the ‘R’ number – must be kept below one, meaning each infected person could expect to pass it to fewer than one other person on average.
He told the press conference on Thursday that the R number was now believed to be at between 0.6 – 0.9 across the country.
Prof Whitty said: ‘We need to make sure that R does not go back above one. Because if not we will go back to a second wave. ‘It is entirely plausible for a second wave to actually be more severe than the first if it is not mitigated. ‘Every country has got an extremely difficult balancing act, and we all need to be honest about the fact there are no easy solutions here. Covid-19 is a very long way from finished and eradication is technically impossible for this disease.’
Mr Johnson told the press briefing on Thursday: ‘We have come through the peak, or rather, we have come under what could have been a vast peak, as though we have been going through some huge alpine tunnel. ‘And we can now see the sunlight and the pasture ahead of us and so it is vital that we do not now lose control and run slap into a second and even bigger mountain.’
Prof Whitty highlighted several key unknowns about coronavirus, including a ‘seasonal element’ to the virus. He said: ‘There may be a seasonal element to this, we don’t know, it’s too early with this virus.’ He went on: ‘It’s not just in Game Of Thrones that winter is always coming – it is also true in every health service. ‘It may be that there’s a seasonal element and if so, for most respiratory viruses, they are more likely to be transmitted, there is a higher likelihood of transmission, in the winter.
‘The winter is always worse than summer, spring and autumn for health services, and we need to think about this in terms of how we come out for the next phase.’ He added that social distancing measures are likely to reduce rates of flu and other respiratory illnesses when winter arrives.