The senior scientists who have guided the Government through the coronavirus pandemic issued a warning tonight that the disease is “growing across the world”.
Sir Patrick Vallance said the R-number, which measures the transmission rate of the virus, remains below one across the UK.
However, just hours after the Prime Minister announced wide-sweeping measures to relax the UK lockdown, the Government’s chief scientific advisor warned: “Don’t be fooled that this means it has gone away.
“The disease is growing across the world. It is coming down in the UK but it hasn’t gone away.”
He said that currently around 0.06 per cent of the population of the UK, or 33,000 people, was now estimated to have the disease and that the numbers were “flattening off” rather than going down to zero.
Meanwhile, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned that the country was in it for the “long haul” and predicted that the country will still be fighting Covid-19 into 2021.
He said: “I would be surprised and delighted if we weren’t in this current situation through the winter and into next spring.
“I expect there to be a significant amount of coronavirus circulating at least into that time and I think it is going to be quite optimistic that for science to come fully to the rescue over that kind of timeframe.
“But I have an absolute confidence in the capacity of science to overcome infectious diseases – it has done that repeatedly and it will do that for this virus, whether that is by drugs, vaccines or indeed other things that may come into play.
“For medium to long term, I’m optimistic. But for the short to medium term, until this time next year, certainly I think we should be planning for this for what I consider to be the long haul into 2021.”
Prof Whitty also said the situation should not be considered as “static” and warned that there was a risk coronavirus cases could increase if the “one metre-plus” rules are not followed.
He added: “It is absolutely critical that every individual, every household and every firm takes these precautions seriously. If that does not happen, we will go back to a situation where transmission starts to rise again.”
The two senior scientists made the comments on what was the last of the daily Downing Street briefings, which have been at the centre of the Government’s response to the pandemic for three months.
The briefings have been scrapped in favour of ad hoc briefings for “significant announcements”, the Government said.
Earlier today Boris Johnson made a landmark statement in the Commons outlining the measures being taken to ease lockdown on July 4.
Social distancing is set to be cut from two metres to one-metre plus, while pubs and restaurants will also be allowed to reopen. However, venues will be expected to take mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission.
Tonight Mr Johnson said that he takes responsibility for those decisions to ease the lockdown.
He told the briefing: “Of course, I take responsibility, the Government takes responsibility for these decisions.
“We are indebted to our scientific colleagues for their advice continually, but it is our responsibility to choose.”
The Prime Minister also acknowledged that Prof Whitty was “particularly worried” about the lockdown being lifted for pubs on July 4.
Mr Johnson said: “I know Chris [Whitty] is particularly worried about this – we can’t have great writhing scenes in the beer gardens when the virus could be passed on.
“This has to be done in a sensible way, people should be giving their names to the pubs, to the restaurants, doing things in a way that allows us, if something does happen, to track back, to test and trace and stamp out any outbreak.
“That’s the absolutely crucial thing. People should of course enjoy themselves but as Chris and Patrick have said, this is going to be with us for a while.
“We’ve just got to adjust and make it work.”