Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Professor Neil Ferguson – whose modelling was instrumental in persuading the government to bring in the first lockdown – said infections would “almost certainly” reach 100,000 daily cases, with the potential for double that figure.
The expert, from Imperial College London and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), was asked if there was a likelihood of a return to restrictions.
Prof Ferguson said this would be a government decision, adding: “Clearly, if we end up in a more, let’s say, worst-case scenario … at the higher end of the modelling and the projections of two, three thousand hospital admissions per day, there may be a need to basically slow spread to some extent.”
Asked if there could be a lockdown again before Christmas, he replied: “You’re asking me about six months ahead, that’s harder.”
He added: “I hope not, but I can’t be certain.”
Speaking on the eve of Covid measures being relaxed in England, Prof Ferguson also warned that half a million more people could develop long Covid in the future.
He said a resurgence of influenza in the winter could be almost as damaging for the health system as Covid.
More than 35 million people, including secondary school pupils, would be offered a free flu vaccine this winter under plans announced by the UK Government The biggest flu programme in the country's history will be launched in September, the government said.
Prof Ferguson said there was a “difficult” summer ahead, but that cases numbers were “likely to be declining at least by late September”.
But he added: “Going into the winter, I think we’ll have quite a high degree of immunity against Covid.
“The real concerns are a resurgence of influenza because we haven’t had any influenza for 18 months, immunity has waned in the population.
“That could be, frankly, almost as damaging, both for health and for the health system by December, January, as Covid has been this year.”
Scotland is due to move to level zero restrictions on Monday, while England will lift many of its remaining Covid restrictions on what has been dubbed ‘Freedom Day’.
Prof Ferguson said it would take three weeks before the effects of relaxing coronavirus restrictions on Monday was known.
He was asked how long it would be before it was known whether the current pandemic strategy was going to work in terms of getting towards herd immunity.
Prof Ferguson said: “We’ll know it’s worked when case numbers plateau and start going down, we know then hospitalisations and deaths will take some more weeks.
“The best projections suggest that could happen any time from, really, mid-August to mid-September. So, we will have to be patient.
“It’ll also take us three weeks before we know the effect of Monday, of relaxing restrictions, and what that will do to case numbers. So, it’s going to be quite a period of time.”