Watch: COVID-19 cases could hit 100,000 a day - but England won't move to Plan B
The UK could already be close to 100,000 COVID cases a day, an expert has said.
Virologist Dr Chris Smith, from the University of Cambridge, said half of COVID cases are asymptomatic, meaning the UK is "probably already close to 100,000 cases a day anyway, we just don’t know about lots of them".
But he said while cases are continuing to rise, the number of people dying remained "very, very low", proving the value of vaccines.
He told BBC Breakfast: "The trend at the moment in cases is upwards, but the more reassuring trend for the moment is how many people are becoming severely unwell, how many people are losing their lives and that number, thankfully, does remain very, very low, and that’s a direct testimony to the performance of the vaccines".
He added that five million people in the UK are still unvaccinated.
Dr Smith's comments come as the health secretary warned that cases could reach 100,000 a day as the country moves into winter, but stopped short of implementing the government's 'Plan B'.
In a Downing Street briefing on Wednesday, Sajid Javid urged people to get their vaccines and any booster shots, as well as doing things like wearing masks in crowded places, to avoid the reintroduction of strict measures.
'Plan B' is part of England’s autumn and winter coronavirus strategy should the NHS come under unsustainable pressure and could include legally mandating face coverings in some settings, introducing mandatory vaccine-only COVID-status certification and asking people to work from home.
But Javid said while the UK was seeing "greater pressure" on the NHS, deaths remain "mercifully low" and said the government would do "what it takes to make sure that this pressure doesn’t become unsustainable, and that we don’t allow the NHS to become overwhelmed".
He said if people do not get vaccinated and fail to make behavioural changes then it is more likely that restrictions will return, adding: "We've all got a role to play."
"If not enough people get their booster jabs, if not enough of those people that were eligible for the original offer, the five million I’ve talked about that remain unvaccinated, if they don’t come forward, if people don’t wear masks when they really should in a really crowded place with lots of people that they don’t normally hang out with, if they’re not washing their hands and stuff, it’s going to hit us all," Javid said.
"And it would of course make it more likely we’re going to have more restrictions. Now we want to avoid those."
But doctors have accused ministers of being "wilfully negligent" for not immediately implementing Plan B.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: "The Westminster government said it would enact Plan B to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed; as doctors working on the frontline, we can categorically say that time is now.
"By the health secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day and we now have the same number of weekly COVID deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown.
"It is therefore incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and to protect the NHS."
He said there is currently an "unacceptable" rate of infections, hospital admissions and deaths "unheard of in similar European nations", adding: "It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection, such as mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing and ventilation requirements in high-risk settings, particularly indoor crowded spaces.
"These are measures that are the norm in many other nations."
As of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 49,139 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the UK, while a further 179 people had died within 28 days of testing positive, according to Government figures.
Hospital admissions stood at 868 on average per day over the last seven days, up from 780 a week earlier, a rise of 11%.
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