Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP
LONDON – England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer said too many people believe the pandemic is over on Wednesday, warning that the UK’s very high coronavirus rates and rising deaths mean that winter is “tough months” ahead.
Jonathan Van-Tam also said he was concerned that rising deaths showed that infections “are now beginning to invade older age groups”.
“Coronavirus rates are currently still very high. They are higher than in most parts of Europe,” Van-Tam told the BBC. “We’re pretty hot. And of course the scientists want it to get so hot so early in the fall season.”
“Personally, I feel like winter is going to be some tough months and it’s not over yet,” he added.
The UK government reported 41,299 new COVID-19 cases and 217 deaths on Wednesday. The country recorded the highest daily death toll since February at 293 on Tuesday.
While new cases have decreased from around 46,000 a day in October, infection rates in the UK are still much higher than most parts of Europe.
Van-Tam said the decline in the number of cases mainly reflected a slowdown in a recent surge seen in teenagers. He warned that while hospital admissions had plateaued and the total number of patients in hospitals had declined slightly, the overall picture was still worrying.
“This could be a pause before things go up, it might be the very first signs that things are starting to stabilize, but at a fast pace,” he said. “But my concern is that deaths are on the rise, and that shows that the infection is now starting to invade these older age groups.”
The UK has a head start in rolling out its vaccination program and most adults have been fully vaccinated. Booster vaccinations are offered to millions of people, including anyone over 50. However, the government has been careful about vaccinating teenagers and younger people and didn’t approve vaccinations for healthy children between the ages of 12 and 15 until September.
Jeremy Brown, a member of the government’s vaccination advisory committee, said it was “far too early” to follow the example of the United States in vaccinating children under the age of 11.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative administration lifted almost all coronavirus restrictions in July, including mandatory face covering and social distancing requirements. Nightclubs and crowded venues were allowed to open fully, and work from home was eliminated.
Authorities have resisted calls to reintroduce restrictions like wearing masks and are instead relying heavily on vaccines to keep infections low.