The UK could suffer a double “surge” of both Covid and flu this winter, a Tory health minister has admitted.
Care minister Helen Whately said she is braced for cases to spike, just months after Boris Johnson ends nearly all restrictions in England on July 19.
She refused to guarantee the end of lockdown rules will be “irreversible”, as the Prime Minister repeatedly said.
That indicates some restrictions could return if needed this winter, as cold wet weather helps the virus to spread.
Asked if the so-called Freedom Day will truly be “irreversible”, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s no question, of course we should keep on watching the data.
“One thing I’m doing as care minister is looking ahead to the winter, where we can anticipate we may get a surge in Covid again because that’s the thing that happens with this kind of virus.
“We are also likely to see flu again this winter and particularly this winter because we didn’t have much flu around last winter.
“That’s why the booster programme for Covid and people getting their flu vaccination is going to be so important.”
It comes as Boris Johnson prepares to ease almost all lockdown laws from July 19, with details confirmed at 5pm tonight.
Downing Street said he will announce Covid is “a virus that we learn to live with as we already do with flu.”
The PM added people will “exercise judgement when going about our lives.”
Yet medics and scientific advisors are divided about whether the Prime Minister is blundering into a deadly third wave.
There were a further 24,248 Covid cases and 15 deaths on Sunday, and while hospital admissions from the virus are low, they have more than doubled in a week.
Ms Whately admitted “we are going to see rates continue to rise”, but added: “We have weakened the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths. That is a critical difference now.”
At a Downing Street press conference this afternoon, the PM is set to announce the one-metre social distancing rule and the legal requirement to wear face-masks will be scrapped.
He will signal that formal advice to work from home will end and set out the next steps for care home visits.
The Government will also publish the findings of reviews into social distancing and vaccine passports.
Although the PM’s formal confirmation of the plans will come on July 12, Downing Street wants to give the public and businesses more time to prepare for unlocking.
But SAGE member Prof Susan Michie tweeted: “Allowing community transmission to surge is like building new ‘variant factories’ at a very fast rate.”
She relying on personal responsibility is “like giving up on all traffic restrictions & saying you can travel where & how you like, irrespective of the harm it causes to others.
“We elect a Government to protect the whole of society esp. disadvantaged communities. The Govt must do their bit to keep us safe.”