Chris Whitty says coronavirus lockdown can be lifted in 'months' but Brits MUST follow the rules

CHRIS Whitty says strict Covid lockdowns will be lifted within "months" and life is to return to normal – but told Brits they must follow the rules first.

England's Chief Medical Officer said Brits are facing the worst few weeks yet as a mutant strain of coronavirus surges in every area of the country.

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But he also gave hope to millions struggling under the tough new March-style lockdown – and said there is 'no doubt' that life will soon go on as it did before the pandemic.

It comes as Boris Johnson considers tightening up the lockdown, with suggestions support bubbles could be halted and people across England told they can only go out once a week.

Professor Whitty urged people not to meet friends for coffee and wear a mask in crowded outdoor spaces – as he warned we're not at the peak yet.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, he said: "At the peak in April last year, we had 18,000 people [being cared for by] the NHS – we currently have more than 30,000 people in the NHS.

"A week ago all four chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said we are facing a significant crisis for the NHS unless we take evasive action.

"This new variant is really pushing things in a way the old variant, which was already bad, was not able to.

"It's a serious problem and rising in every part of England.

"The next few weeks will be the worst in this pandemic in terms of numbers for NHS."

He said the new lockdown will go on for "several more weeks – until probably sometime in the spring".

"We need to really double down," he said.

"This is everyone’s problem and every single unnecessary contract is a potential link in the chain of transmission."

Urging Brits to stay at home as the death rate surges past levels seen during the first peak, he said: "I think it is a shocking figure.

"Anyone not shocked by number of people in hospitals and seriously ill and dying over the course of this pandemic has not understood this at all.

"This is an appalling situation – we are very close to the point that we can get on top of this, but it’s not yet."

Ministers are considering a ban on exercising with one person outside of their household, as well as new rules on wearing face coverings in offices, it's been reported.

The PM held a meeting with Cabinet yesterday to discuss whether the current lockdown rules are working.

It came after parks and beachfronts across the country were mobbed at the weekend as people took advantage of their daily outdoor exercise allowance.

Hyde Park in London was heaving with families on their daily walks, while Covid marshals patrolled along Brighton's seafront.

Prof Whitty said this morning: "I am confident we will go back to life as it was before at some point.

"That's not in doubt."

He said it will take "rather a long period" to vaccinate enough Brits to reduce the risk for the whole of society, although stressed it'll be "months not years".

"That won't happen in one go, but at a certain point, we will get back to life basically exactly the same as it was before," he said.

"However, it's quite long way away at the moment."

And in a second interview half-an-hour later on BBC 5 Live, he said the situation will worsen yet.

"We are not yet at the peak," he said.

"Everybody must double down and absolutely minimise contact. The point of lockdown is to bring that forward, but it only works if everyone does it. Rates are still going up and the numbers in hospital are still going up across country."

Brits must reconsider any form of contact, including meeting pals outside for a coffee, he said.

"Please, really don't," he said.

It comes as thousands more people are expected to be given a vaccine soon, with the opening of seven mass vaccination sites across England today.

The new centres – including at a football stadium and a tennis club – will be joined later this week by hundreds more GP-led and hospital services along with the first pharmacy-led pilot sites, taking the total to around 1,200, NHS England said.

The locations – Ashton Gate in Bristol, Epsom racecourse in Surrey, the Excel Centre in London, Newcastle's Centre for Life, the Manchester Tennis and Football Centre, Robertson House in Stevenage and Birmingham's Millennium Point – will offer jabs to people aged 80 and above, along with health and care staff.

Matt Hancock, who is due to visit one of the sites, will set out the vaccines delivery plan at a Downing Street press conference on this afternoon.

The Health Secretary said the NHS has made "fantastic strides" with the rollout.

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