6 key quotes from Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance’s coronavirus press conference

Victoria Bell
Screen grab of the government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance speaking at a Downing Street briefing to explain how the coronavirus is spreading in the UK and the potential scenarios that could unfold as winter approaches.
The government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said a second wave could lead to around 200 deaths a day in November. (PA)

Two of Boris Johnson’s top advisers have warned that the UK could see 49,000 new cases by mid-October unless action is taken to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said such a scenario could see 200 daily deaths in November as hospitalisation figures increase, while England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said too little action risked the virus becoming “out of control”.

The pair said the UK is at a “critical point” in the pandemic.

In the last two weeks, daily case figures have consistently been over the 3,000 mark, with 3,899 daily cases and 18 deaths reported on Sunday – a pattern that mirrors that seen in a number of other major European countries that have experienced second waves of the virus.

Following the advisers’ address, Boris Johnson is expected to reveal further restrictions on Tuesday following last week’s introduction of the “rule of six” in England, and there is growing speculation that the UK could face a second national lockdown.

Here are 6 key quotes from Sir Patrick and Prof Whitty’s press conference in Downing Street on Monday:

Epidemic is growing exponentially

Sir Patrick Vallance: “At the moment we think the epidemic is doubling roughly every seven days.

“If, and that’s quite a big if, but if that continues unabated and this grows doubling every seven days... if that continued you would end up with something like 50,000 cases in the middle of October per day.

“50,000 cases per day would be expected to lead a month later, so the middle of November, say, to 200-plus deaths per day

“The challenge therefore is to make sure the doubling time does not stay at seven days.”

Virus is not getting weaker

Professor Chris Whitty: “What we’ve seen in other countries, and are now clearly seeing here, is that they’re not staying just in the younger age groups, and moving up the age bands and the mortality rates will be similar to – slightly lower than they were previously – but they will be similar to what we saw previously.”

“This virus is more virulent than flu so the numbers people talk about are not unreasonable numbers for us to be thinking about. While the treatment was better it could not take mortality down to trivial levels.”

Brace for a tough winter

CW: “At this point the seasons are against us, we’re now going into the seasons – late autumn and winter – which benefit respiratory viruses, and it is very likely they will benefit COVID, as they do, for example, flu.

“So we should see this as a six-month problem that we have to deal with collectively, it’s not indefinite.”

Increase in cases is not due to more testing

PV: “What you can see is an increase in all age groups, the lowest in children and people aged 70-79 but in every age group we’ve seen an increase.

“Could that increase be due to increased testing? The answer is no.

“We see an increase in the positivity of the testing, and the proportion of people testing positive has increased even if testing stays flat. And if we look at other sources of data, for example the ONS study, which takes a sample of people across the population, or studies like the React study, we see a similar increase.

“In the ONS study, it’s estimated that approximately 70,000 people in the UK have COVID and about 6,000 people per day are getting the infection.”

Screen grab of the government's chief medical officer Chris Whitty speaking at a Downing Street briefing to explain how the coronavirus is spreading in the UK and the potential scenarios that could unfold as winter approaches.
England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty at the Downing Street briefing. (PA)

Vaccine by end of year?

PV: “There is good progress being made [on a coronavirus vaccine].

“Many vaccines now have shown they generate an immune response of a type that ought to be protective, and several vaccines are in very late stage clinical testing, aiming to show that they are both effective and safe.

“We don’t yet know they will work but there is increasing evidence that is pointing in the right direction and it is possible that some vaccine could be available before the end of the year in small amounts for certain groups.

“Much more likely that we’ll see vaccines becoming available over the first half of next year, again not certain but pointed in the right direction, which then of course gives the possibility of a different approach to this virus.”

“But in the meantime, we’ve got to get control of this in the way that Chris has described in order to make sure that we can live with it in a way that’s sustainable and protects health and society overall.”

Science will ride to our rescue – eventually

CW: “In this period of the next six months, I think we have to realise that we have to take this collectively, very seriously.”

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