Lockdown exit is 'very unlikely' to be sped up even if Covid cases and deaths fall, says Professor Chris Whitty

LOCKDOWN easing is “very unlikely” to be brought forward even if the deaths and cases data continues to improve, according to England’s chief medical officer.

Professor Chris Whitty said the UK will face an inevitable surge in Covid cases as measures start being lifted and that many restrictions must stay in place at least until June — warning: “If you open up too fast, a lot more people die.”

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And he said the spike in infections would be much lower if lockdown ended later in the year when most of the country has been jabbed.

Although the jabs rollout will help to limit the number of deaths ­during the expected new surge, fatalities will still occur in unvaccinated Brits and in those for whom the shot has not worked, he added.

Prof Whitty was challenged by MPs on whether “data, not dates” was just a slogan — and asked if lockdown could end sooner in light of ­plummeting cases.

But speaking to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, he said a slow release was essential.

The top doc told MPs: “It’s pretty doubtful you are going to be in a position where you will be able to say, ‘This data look so fantastically better, please take more risks here’. That seems a very unlikely situation.

“The history of this is not full of countries and individual leaders wishing they had done more, faster.

“It’s full of leaders who wished they had acted quicker and then been more careful as they take things off.”

He said the situation could “turn bad” very quickly if a close eye is not kept on it — and pointed to parts of Europe, where cases have begun rising again.

Prof Whitty added: “Remember that the great majority of those who will drive a surge in transmission are not yet vaccinated and will not be vaccinated by Easter.”

Schools re-opened on Monday, with the next major easing of measures pencilled in for April 12 when gyms, hairdressers and outdoor and takeaway pints at pubs resume.

Indoor mixing can take place from May 17 under Boris Johnson’s plans, while unrestricted social contact is due to return on June 21.

The chief medical officer also warned Covid will remain a problem even once the majority of the UK population has been jabbed.

Prof Whitty said: “It is really important we do not give any impression that what we are expecting is this just goes away and there is no further deaths.

“That is not realistic and I think to pretend that to the British public would be completely wrong.”

His views were supported by the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, who told the committee a “zero Covid” strategy was not possible.

He added: “Our focus needs to be on reducing the levels we have. That is the key point — to keep things under control.

“I do not think that zero Covid is possible. I think there’s nothing to suggest that this virus will go away, at least any time soon. It’s going to be there, circulating.”

Covid fatalities in those aged 80 or above have fallen by 79 per cent in just five weeks, according to the Office for National Statistics, and by 70 per cent for the over-70s.

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