The number of Covid hospital admissions is set to hit “at least” 1,000 a day and could rise above the previous record, scientists advising the government have warned.
Boris Johnson will lift almost all England’s lockdown restrictions on July 19 as he presses ahead with step four of his roadmap.
In advice published on Monday afternoon as the prime minister addressed the nation in a press conference, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said it was “almost certain” that the peak in deaths will be well below the levels seen in January 2021, due to the impact of vaccination.
But Sage said the number of hospital admissions to occur in this wave while “highly uncertain” was “likely to reach at least 1,000 per day” depending on the speed of changes following step four.
“Most modelled scenarios have peaks lower than January 2021. However, under more pessimistic assumptions, some scenarios show a resurgence of that scale or larger,” Sage said.
“Even if lower than previous peaks, the number of admissions may become challenging for the NHS.”
At the height of the second wave on January 12 of this year, 4,579 people were admitted to hospital in a one day. In the first wave, the peak in hospitalisations was 3,565, on April 1.
Key to government plans to lift restrictions is whether the vaccination programme has broken the link between infection, hospitalisation and death.
The next peak in Covid infections, leading to between 100 and 200 deaths a day, is not expected to be reached before mid-August.
In the minutes published on Monday, the Sage experts said if the government’s aim was to prevent the NHS being under pressure, its priority should be to avoid a “very rapid” return by people to pre-pandemic behaviour.
Sage said: “Maintaining interventions such as more people working from home, the use of masks in crowded indoor spaces, and increasing ventilation, would contribute to transmission reduction and therefore reduce the number of hospitalisations.”
Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs which has been sceptical of some lockdown measures, said the hospitalisation data was currently “hugely flawed” as it did not distinguish between patients ill with Covid and those in hospital for other reasons. “Dodgy data cannot drive us into lockdown again,” he said.
Under Johnson’s plan, from step four all restrictions on gatherings will be removed, masks will no longer be legally required, social distancing measures will be scrapped and the order to work from home will be lifted.
But while the laws will be repealed, the government has said people will still be “expected” to wear face coverings in certain situations such as crowded indoor areas.