A third wave peak of Covid infection across England is expected around mid-August and could lead to 1,000 to 2,000 hospital admissions per day, government scientists believe.

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, warned that the NHS would experience pressure from an expected rise in serious illness from Covid once legal restrictions are lifted in England on 19 July.

“What we would hope, if we all go very carefully over the next period, is that the next peak will be significantly lower than the peak we saw in January, which put huge pressure on the NHS,” he said at the Downing Street briefing on Monday.

“But to think we aren’t going to have any pressure on the NHS is not fully realistic,” Prof Whitty added.

Boris Johnson confirmed that England’s final Covid curbs would end on 19 July – but warned that life cannot yet go back to normal. “This pandemic is not over,” he said at Monday’s press conference.

From next Monday there will be no legal obligation to wear masks or socially distance. But Mr Johnson said that the government still “expects” people wear masks in enclosed spaces, such as on public transport.

While the instruction to work from home where possible is being lifted, Mr Johnson made clear he was not ordering workers back to offices – with companies to be given guidance for a “gradual return to work over the summer”.

Prof Whitty said that going slowly through the next step was “essential” to reduce the scale and the impact of the “exit wave” which lies ahead this summer.

Both hospitalisations and deaths will go up this summer, with the peak of the third wave expected mid-August. But Prof Whitty claimed the pressure on the NHS would not be “unsustainable”.

He said there were was “extremely wide agreement that whenever we go through the next step, there is going to be what’s called an exit wave – there will be a wave associated with that”.

Prof Whitty added: “The slower we take it, the fewer people will have Covid, the smaller the peak will be, and the smaller the number of people who go into hospital and die. So, going very slowly through this step is really essential.”

Boris Johnson warns lockdown lifting does not mean life is going back to normal

The senior government adviser also said there was agreement between the scientific community that the recent four-week delay to the final stage of the road map helped reduce the spread of Covid transmission.

But there is “no clear evidence” that delaying the next step of the road map again would make a difference, Prof Whitty said. “There is no such thing as an ideal date – all the possible dates have downsides,” he said.

“There is no clear evidence, in comparison to the previous occasion when a delay was clearly going to make a difference … that the delay now is going to make a difference. What is going to make a difference is going slowly.”

Under the latest modelling released by the government’s Sage advisers on Monday, the peak of the wave is not expected before mid-August, when there could be 1,000 to 2,000 hospital admissions per day.

Deaths are expected to reach between 100 and 200 per day – though there is a large amount of uncertainty.

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