A senior British scientist has warned that a second nationwide lockdown is possible as some hospitals in the north of England are already under pressure.
Professor Peter Horby, from the University of Oxford, said the country was in a precarious position with an increase in the number of coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and deaths.
Asked the Andrew Marr Show if the country faces a second national lockdown, Professor Horby said: “I think it’s a possibility and we need to do what we can to avoid this at all costs.”
He added, “We are already seeing in some parts of the north that some hospitals are starting to come under pressure.
“We have a doubling time of about eight to 15 days, so it doesn’t take long before the intensive care unit beds are full and we could be in a really tough spot.
“So I’m afraid we have to make some very difficult choices and act very quickly.”
It comes as the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 rose in all parts of England on Saturday, rising to 1,167 in the North West from 725 the previous week.
Another 15,166 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK were reported on Saturday, and 81 more deaths were confirmed of people who died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.
Professor Horby, who is also chair of the government advisory group for the Advisory Group on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (NERVTAG), said the country must agree to tougher measures to reduce transmission of the virus.
He told The Andrew Marr Show that suggestions to protect the vulnerable and the elderly while allowing young people to continue as usual were “very, very difficult.”
“It’s very difficult to identify who is a risk, it is very difficult to completely isolate the elderly,” he said.
“There is still a need for home care, nursing homes, hospitals, etc.
The Nervtag chairman explained that the number of cases was much higher in the North because it was not as low as the rest of the country and people had more contact with others.
“There are two main reasons,” said the professor. “One is that in the north the numbers have never really gone down as low as in the rest of the country. These parts of the country were a higher starting point.
“Second, we saw that over the summer, the polls showed that the number of contacts people had with each other was not as low in these parts of the country as elsewhere.
“The underlying reasons for both of these things are complex and may well relate to different labor markets, housing density, deprivation, etc.
He also pointed out that as infections increase, the risk of death of Covid-19 patients in hospitals decreases.
Professor Horby said: “It appears that the risk of death in hospital patients is decreasing.
“It was pretty high at around 25 to 30 percent in the last wave. Looks like it’s dropping below 20%. ”
Scientists advising the government said the current R-value for the UK is between 1.2 and 1.5.
This is down slightly from last week when it was between 1.3 and 1.6.
Professor Peter Horby said it was unclear where the coronavirus was being transmitted.
He added: “It is very clear that transmission is happening where there is close contact. It happens in households, it also happens in the hotel sector.
“It’s actually quite difficult to know where someone got an infection.
“Everyone lives at home and we are seeing high transmission rates in homes, but we cannot close the homes.
“But we are also seeing a transmission very clearly linked to the hotel sector but also to other industries. “