Scientists have warned that the country remains “on the edge” and should observe “constant vigilance” to avoid a second wave of cases of coronavirus while the control measures are relaxed.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, admitted that he was “worried” about a possible spike in infections before the reopening of pubs, restaurants and hairdressers next month.
He warned that there could be a “very bad rebound” in the coronavirus in winter if the UK did not use the “next few months” reasonably.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, he said: “In truth, the restrictions started to be lifted in late May, early June, around this holiday.
“I predict, I suppose, that we will start to see some case increases towards the end of June or the first week of July.
He added: “We are on the edge, the situation is very precarious, especially in England at the moment, and I anticipate that we will see an increase in new cases in the coming weeks.”
Sir Jeremy, who is also a member of the government’s Scientific Emergency Advisory Panel (Sage), said the next three months have been “absolutely critical” in the fight against coronaviruses in the UK.
He said, “Come winter, come reopen schools, which is absolutely critical, we can expect to see rebounds and second waves.
“The question is to start from a very weak base, like in Scotland, a few dozen cases, or maybe a few hundred cases in England, and then you are in a good position if there are local epidemics which you can respond locally and you can prevent the national disaster that occurred in March and April.
“It is the key, to use the months of June, July and August in a very intelligent way, to ensure that we have everything in place and to learn the lessons of February and March.
He said doctors have improved treatment for patients with Covid-19, but it still represents a “very, very nasty infection”.
Sir Jeremy added: “You have to move faster than the epidemic, you have to stand out from the pandemic.
“Once you’re behind, you have exponential growth, you lose sight of it and that’s what happened across Europe, especially in the UK, in March and April of this year.
“We got behind, we were too slow and, as a result, the epidemic took off and we couldn’t control it.”
Sir Jeremy argued that the government’s test, trace and isolation system should be “fully functional” by September.
Sir Mark Walport, the former chief scientific adviser to the government, said that the United Kingdom must maintain a “constant vigilance” while it is released from locking.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he said the government was facing a “balancing act” between managing the virus epidemic and the damage to health caused by a damaged economy.
Asked whether the virus could re-emerge in winter when the NHS is under more pressure, Sir Mark said: “This is obviously a significant risk.”
He said the virus likely lasts longer in air and on surfaces in cold, humid environments, suggesting that winter could be a “risky” period.
Sir Mark said that people should be “reasonable and responsible” and try to reduce social contact as much as possible.
He suggested that epidemics occur in “clusters”, including in certain work environments such as food processing plants, which makes local control important.
“We must do everything we can to avoid a second generalized wave,” he said.
Sir Jeremy urged people to remain “very careful, especially during any indoor event” because the lock-in measures are relaxed.
He said that easing the lock at the end of May was “too early” because of the number of new cases of coronavirus per day.
But he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that lower numbers now make the opening of the economy “reasonable”.