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There could be a “very nasty rebound” of coronavirus in autumn or winter if the country does not use the next few months to prepare, a scientist advising the government has warned.
Infectious diseases expert Sir Jeremy Farrar said that it was “reasonable” to begin opening up but warned the country is on a “knife edge” as it prepares to lift many lockdown restrictions next week.
Farrar, who sits on the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage), said people should remain “really cautious” around indoor venues, including pubs and restaurants which open on July 4.
And he said the government’s test, trace and isolate system must be “fully functional by the beginning of September” with people using and trusting it, so the country can get on top of outbreaks.
As officials consider imposing a local lockdown to combat an outbreak in Leicester, the Wellcome Trust director told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “I would predict, I would guess, that we will start to see a few increases in cases towards the end of June or the first week of July.
“We’re on a knife edge, it’s very precarious the situation, particularly in England at the moment, and I would anticipate we would see an increase in new cases over the coming weeks.”
Asked when the country may see a second spike in coronavirus, he said: “We’re seeing second spikes now in continental Europe, in Germany, and I think we will see rebounds.
“It will be in certain situations, we’ve had outbreaks in meat packing factories across the continent and indeed in the UK.
“I think a true second wave will come in the winter months, in October, November.”
Farrar argued that the next three months were “absolutely critical” in the fight against coronavirus in the UK.
The Wellcome Trust director said: “Come the winter, come the reopening of schools, which is absolutely critical, we can anticipate to see rebounds and second waves.”
Asked if that meant more people losing their lives, he said: “It could do. There’s no doubt that nurses, doctors, people in hospitals, have become better at treating patients with Covid.
“We’ve learnt a huge amount about the disease and we’re better at treating it today. The mortality rates have come down over the six months.
“But it is still a very, very nasty infection.
“You’ve got to move faster than the epidemic, you’ve got to move ahead of the pandemic.
“Once you get behind it, you have exponential growth, you lose track of it and that’s what happened across Europe, particularly in the UK, in March and April of this year.
“We got behind it, we were too slow and, as a result, the epidemic took off and we weren’t able to control it.”
Home secretary Priti Patel meanwhile encouraged drinkers to go to pubs next weekend but remember to follow social distancing guidelines.
She told Marr: “In terms of people going, I would say go, be responsible, follow the guidance.
“Practice social distancing, follow the hygiene as well - washing hands and all the hygiene methods are so important.
“But I come back to my point that we are living with the virus right now.
“We don’t have a vaccine so it is incumbent on all of us to make sure we keep our distance and we enjoy ourselves in a responsible way, but be conscientious of other people around us.”