Public told to cut social contact as expert warns we may need more restrictions

A medical expert has warned that more Covid restrictions may be necessary and urged the public to reduce their social contacts.

The chief medical adviser for the UK Health Security Agency believes a large wave of coronavirus is now ‘inevitable’ in the UK, as the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly.

Dr Susan Hopkins conceded that she is worried the NHS could be overwhelmed but said more data was urgently needed before the full picture becomes clear.  

It comes as a Government minister confirmed on Sunday morning that people infected with the strain are now in hospital – but given the lag between infection and serious illness, it is still too early to tell whether Omicron will be as deadly as other strains.

Yet it is becomingly increasingly clear that the variant is more infectious.

Dr Hopkins told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: ‘I think that the restrictions that the Government have announced are sensible.

‘I think that we may need to go beyond them.

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‘But we’ll need to watch carefully what happens with hospitalisations.’

She added that the Government has ‘very difficult’ decisions ahead.

New measures that it has brought in, including making people wear face masks again, appear to have made little difference in stopping the spread – with confirmed infections increasing dramatically this week.

With the doubling time thought to be between two and three days, projections suggest the UK could hit more than a million daily cases after Christmas.

Dr Hopkins added: ‘It’s inevitable that we’re going to see a big wave of infections. What we are not yet clear on, and which is what we are basically making sure people go out and get their vaccination for, is how much that will affect hospitals.

‘I think we will have to reduce our social contacts as much as we can which is the working-from-home guidance.

‘I think we have to use lateral flow devices if we’re going to go out and meet people socially, or we have to go to work.’

The Government has insisted that Christmas parties can go ahead – but told people to work from home if they can.

Amid increasing concerns about already exhausted staff in the under-strain NHS, Dr Hopkins was asked if she is worried the new wave of infections could overwhelm the health service.

She said: ‘We are worried and we’re right to be worried because we don’t have enough data to narrow those predictions and those models down to the best finest detail yet, and it takes time to do that.

‘I still think it will take another two weeks before we’re clear on whether the severity that South Africa have reported in some scenarios, but not in all, is going to be reflected here.

‘We have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And I think our job is to highlight that this is a big wave. It’s coming straight at us. If we see even half the severity that we saw with Delta then we’re facing a very large number of hospitalisations and potential deaths.’

It is Boxing Day two weeks from today.

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