(Reuters) – England is in much better shape due to the COVID-19 vaccination program but people should approach the end of coronavirus restrictions with caution, the country’s chief medical officer said on Thursday.
The government is removing most pandemic restrictions in England from July 19, saying a rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death.
“I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast,” Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said in a webinar late on Thursday hosted by the Science Museum.
“We are not by any means out of the woods yet on this, we are in much better shape due to the vaccine program, and drugs and a variety of other things”, he added.
Britain has had among the highest death tolls in the world but two-thirds of its adult population has been fully vaccinated, receiving two doses.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to move England to Step 4 – the end of legal lockdown curbs – on Monday. This means the last remaining businesses still closed, including nightclubs, can finally reopen.
Johnson acknowledges a wave of infections and more deaths are inevitable when restrictions end but said worse harm would come from keeping the economy shut and a successful vaccine rollout has cut the number of serious cases.
Many scientists point to the more transmissible Delta variant, which has become dominant in Britain, as changing the calculation since the roadmap was laid out in February.
Whitty said it was key for people “to take things incredibly slowly” after July 19, adding he expects most people will still take precautions.
“People have been incredibly good at saying, ‘I may be a relatively low-risk, but people around me are at high-risk, and I’m going to modify my behaviors’,” he said.