Parts of the NHS are such “a war zone” that the UK cannot afford to relax its lockdown, the government’s’ chief scientific adviser has warned.
Vaccines alone are not yet doing enough “heavy lifting” to allow lockdown restrictions to be eased, and when relaxation does come it will be slow and gradual, he said.
In a question and answer session with Sky News viewers, Vallance revealed that at all stages in the pandemic, he has advised the government to “go earlier than you think you want to, go a bit harder than you think you want to, and go a bit broader than you think you want to” in the application of restrictions on social and economic life.
And in a warning to the public not to feel that vaccines give them an excuse to let their guard down against Covid-19, he said: “The advice at the moment is vaccines are not going to do the heavy lifting for us at the moment, anywhere near it.
“This is about, I’m afraid, the restrictive measures which we’re all living under and carrying on with those.
“The numbers are nowhere near where they need to be at the moment, they need to come down quite a lot further – we need to make sure we stick with it.
“You go for a walk in the park or something, life looks normal; you go for a walk in a hospital, if you work in a hospital, you will see life not looking normal at all.
“This is a really difficult, dangerous situation we’re in, and we need to get the numbers down, so I don’t see a release of these measures as being a sensible thing to do in the short term.”
Assessing the current situation in the NHS, Sir Patrick said: “This is very, very bad at the moment, with enormous pressure, and in some cases it looks like a war zone in terms of the things that people are having to deal with.”
In a message of reassurance to the public he said: “There’s light at the end of the tunnel, science is going to get us out of this, and we’re on the way.”
But he added: “We need to carry on doing what we’re doing and a big thank you to everybody.
“It’s really tough to keep these restrictions in place, it’s really tough on children, it’s really tough on all of us.
“Please keep going because if we can keep this under control, if we can drive these numbers down, that’s what’s going to get us out of this sooner.”
Sir Patrick said it was hoped that as the vaccine took effect and cases dropped, it would be possible to start a gradual release of some of the measures.
But he warned: “I think it’s important to recognise this is not going to be a sort of big bang, ‘great, take the lid off, everything’s fine, we can all go back to normal’.
“This is going to be a slow release, monitoring carefully, understanding the effects.”
By the summer and into net winter “things will be a lot better” because a large proportion of the population will have been vaccinated, he said.
Responding to Sir Patrick’s comments, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters: “We accept and fully acknowledge the pressure that the NHS is under at the moment.
“You’ve seen ministers make that clear in press conferences previously. That’s why we continue to ask the public to follow the guidance and to play their part to protect the NHS and save lives.”