Chief medical officer Chris Whitty also warned that the country was facing a “very serious” threat from COVID-19 for the next six months, The Independent reported.
Addressing the nation from Downing Street, the prime minister’s most senior scientific and medical advisers stressed that the numbers were not a prediction, but represented the scale the pandemic could reach in Britain if the public does not follow safety advice such as Boris Johnson’s “rule of six”.
Prof. Whitty said, “At this point the seasons are against us. We're now getting into the seasons - late autumn and winter - which benefit respiratory viruses and it is very likely they will benefit COVID as they do, for example, flu."
“So we should see this as a six-month problem that we have to deal with collectively. It’s not indefinite - science will in due course ride to our rescue," he continued, adding, “But in this period of the next six months, I think we have to realise that we have to take this collectively very seriously.”
Prof. Vallance stated that data from France and Spain, where numbers of cases began to rise a few weeks earlier than in Britain, showed that increased numbers of hospitalisations and deaths can be expected over the coming weeks in the UK.
“There's a simple message,” he said, adding, “As the disease spreads, as it spreads across age groups, we expect to see increasing hospitalisations."
“And unfortunately, those increase in hospitalisations will lead to an increase in deaths," he continued, noting, “The virus has genetically moved a bit, but it has not changed in terms of its propensity and ability to cause disease, and to cause death.”
He said that infections in England were currently doubling “roughly every seven days”, and added it was clear from the science that this was not due to more testing picking up asymptomatic cases which might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
"If this acceleration continues unabated, he said that the 5,000 daily cases seen now will increase to “10,000 next week, 20,000 the week after, 40,000 the week after that,” he announced.
“You can see that by mid-October, if that continued, you would end up with something like 50,000 cases in the middle of October per day,” he said, adding, “Fifty thousand cases per day would be expected to lead a month later - so the middle of November, say - to 200-plus deaths.”
Stressing that the figures were not a prediction, Prof Vallance noted, “The challenge is to make sure the doubling time does not stay at seven days."
“There are already things in place which are expected to slow that and to make sure that we do not enter into this exponential growth and end up with the problems that you would predict as a result of that," he said.
“That requires speed, it requires action, and it requires enough in order to be able to bring that down,” he added.
Professor Whitty said there were now “significant rates of transmission”, with increases across the “great majority” of the country.
While new cases had emerged over the summer in localised outbreaks which could be tackled individually through Johnson’s “whack-a-mole” approach, the disease now appeared to be spreading more widely, he added.
“What we’re seeing is a rate of increase across the great majority of the countr,” he said, adding, "It is going at different rates but it is now increasing.
“Anywhere that was falling is now moving over to beginning to rise and then the rate of rise continues in an upwards direction," he underscored.
“So, this is not someone else’s problem, this is all of our problem,” he underlined.
He said that since the start of September, inpatient cases in hospitals were doubling at around the same rate as infections – every seven or eight days – warning, “You can quickly move from really quite small numbers to really very large numbers because of that exponential process.
“So we have, in a bad sense literally turned a corner, although only relatively recently,” he added.
The chief medical officer hinted at further restrictions potentially on their way to limit the spread of COVID through social interaction.
He told the briefing, “We have to break unnecessary links between households because that is the way this virus is transmitted, and this means reducing social contacts whether they are at work… and also in social environments."
“We have to try and do this in the least damaging way. We all know we cannot do this without some significant downsides and this is a balance of risks. If we don’t do enough the virus will take off, and at the moment that is the path that we are clearly on," he noted.
“If we do not change course we are going to find ourselves in a very difficult problem," he added.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said, “This rapid spike in infections was not inevitable, but a consequence of the Government’s incompetence and failure to put in place an adequate testing system", stating, “The Government must do what it takes to prevent another lockdown, which would cause unimaginable damage to our economy and people’s wellbeing."