England might have to go back into lockdown in the winter, Public Health England’s Covid director has said.
A surge in cases, driven by the Delta variant of the virus, has already forced Boris Johnson to delay the end of the current lockdown from June 21 to July 19.
Dr Susan Hopkins said that 70% of adults should be able to get their second vaccination by the new target date.
But speaking to the BBC’s Show Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Hopkins warned rules could have to be tightened again later in the year.
“We may have to do further lockdowns this winter, I can’t predict the future, it really depends on whether the hospitals start to become overwhelmed at some point,” she said.
“But I think we will have alternative ways to manage this, through vaccination, through anti-virals, through drugs, through testing that we didn’t have last winter.
“All of those things allow us different approaches rather than restrictions on livelihoods that will move us forward into the next phase of learning to live with this as an endemic that happens as part of the respiratory viruses.”
PHE’s Hopkins added she wanted to see everyone over the age of 40 and “as many” people over 30 as possible to have the opportunity to get double-vaccinated by July 19.
“We know that two doses of vaccination really protects against hospital admission, about 94% overall and 92% for AstraZeneca and 96% for Pfizer,” she said.
“We should be able to hit the 70% figure having two doses before July 19.”
Professor Calum Semple, member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), also warned a “pretty miserable winter” is ahead for the UK with further lockdowns a possibility.
He told Times Radio this was because “other respiratory viruses are going to come back and bite us quite hard” before the country returned to “business as normal next year”.
“There’s a sting in the tail after every pandemic, because social distancing will have reduced exposure, particularly of pregnant women and their newborn babies, they will have not been exposed to the usual endemic respiratory viruses,” he said.
“The protection that a pregnant woman would give to their unborn child has not occurred.
“So we are going to see a rise in a disease called bronchiolitis, and a rise in community acquired pneumonia in children and in the frail elderly, to the other respiratory viruses for which we don’t have vaccines.
“So that’s why we’re predicting a rough July, August and then a rough winter period.”
Semple called it the “fourth wave winter” but added it would be much milder than the previous ones.