Increasing Covid-19 cases in the UK could show that the “infection [is] starting to penetrate into older age groups”, one of England’s most senior health officers has said.
Jonathan Van-Tam, the UK's deputy chief medical officer, said the country was at “half-time in extra-time” in tackling Covid-19 but the final whistle may not be heard until spring.
“Essentially, deaths are increasing. If you then look at hospital admissions, those have plateaued in the last four days,” he said.
“My worry is that the deaths are increasing and that shows that the infection is now starting to penetrate into those older age groups.
“That's why the really key thing is that, if you are called for your booster, if you are called for your flu vaccine, please go and get them — this could be really very important this winter. It is not the time to be complacent.”
Mr Van-Tam urged people to be cautious this winter as the virus tries to retake the initiative from an increasingly vaccinated — and potentially overconfident — population.
“Christmas, and indeed all of the darker winter months, are potentially going to be problematic.
“I think the things that are really going to determine this are, first of all, human behaviours and caution over the winter months, but particularly in the next couple of months if you're talking about Christmas, so it's how cautious we are.
“The next one is how well the vaccination programmes go.”
He said the autumn Covid figures had scientists concerned and that too many people think the pandemic is already over.
“I think a whole range of behaviours, including the use of face coverings, but generally the caution that people take or don't take in terms of interacting with each other — that is going to be a big determinant in what happens between now and the kind of darkest months in the winter,” he said.
“The rates are still very high at the moment. They are higher than in most of Europe. And we are running quite hot — I think that's the right expression. Of course, it's of concern to scientists that we are running this hot this early in the autumn season,” Mr Van-Tam added.
In an interview covering a range of Covid issues, he said: “Too many people believe that this pandemic is now over.”