The England chief medical officer has warned that the coming weeks will be “the worst weeks” of the coronavirus pandemic for the NHS, as he urged the public to minimize unnecessary contact in order to reduce transmissions.
Highlighting the pressure on the health service, Professor Chris Whitty said that while 18,000 people were in hospital with Covid-19 during the April peak of last year on Sunday, more than 30,000 beds were occupied by of patients with the disease.
“This is going to be a major crisis for the NHS unless we take evasive action,” he warned. BBC breakfast days after the government imposed the third national lockdown in England to curb the spread of the virus.
Professor Whitty added: “We have a very important problem. The next few weeks will be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers in the NHS.
“What we need to do before the vaccines work… is that we really need to double: that’s everyone’s problem. Any unnecessary contact you have with someone is a potential link in a chain of transmission that will lead to a vulnerable person.
“We all, as individuals, need to help the NHS, help our fellow citizens by minimizing the amount of unnecessary contact we have.”
Professor Whitty declined to be drawn into speculation that ministers might toughen lockdown rules, including preventing people from exercising with people outside their homes, but suggested current measures could be needed until “some time in the spring” to control the spread of the virus. .
“We have to make this sustainable because we have to be able to maintain this for several weeks now,” he insisted.
“We’re really going to have to do some important action for all of us for several more weeks and probably in the spring for a lot of what we have to do.
“So obviously we need to be able to do the essential work that they can’t do from home. We fully accept that this is necessary to keep the company going because you have to be able to do it over a period of time.
“So the three things people can leave home for are essential work where they can’t do it from home, when they exercise – which is very important for people’s physical health, their mental health – and for essential things like shopping. or medical intervention. ”
In a rare series of morning interviews – highlighting concern at the top of government over pressure on the NHS and rising transmissions – Professor Whitty also pointed out that the virus can be transmitted anywhere people of two different households met.
He said: “So it can be transmitted, and very often transmitted, in households when people invite people to their homes and meet people who are not from their household. Of course, this can be transmitted in any other environment. : outdoors, in shops, in any type of environment, and indoors
“The key thing to understand is that when you meet people from another household, whatever the circumstances – and it’s very often your friends, your family – but these are the kinds of situations in which the virus is spread. .
“It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter if they’re your friends. If you meet someone from another household, the virus has the possibility of being transmitted. ”
However, he later said BBC Radio 4 today program according to which ephemeral contact outside, such as a jogger walking past, presents an “extremely low risk”, adding: “It is the much longer contact in close proximity that can still occur outdoors – if the people, for example, are crammed into a queue. .. if they’re really gathered around a market stall or something like that, it’s a risk with this virus.
“And people in this situation, there may be some logic to people who think about wearing masks, but a much better thing to do is to minimize going out for unnecessary travel in the first place.