Boris Johnson may be forced to reimpose lockdown restrictions if Covid cases continue rising into the autumn, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned.
With most statutory controls in England due to end on Monday, Mr Hunt said the situation facing the NHS is “very serious” with rapidly increasing numbers of hospital admissions.
“The warning light on the NHS dashboard is not flashing amber, it is flashing red,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
His warning came as one scientist advising the Government said the country could be facing a “protracted period” of rising cases running into the autumn.
Professor John Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said new infections could reach 100,000 a day within weeks.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he wants the lifting of lockdown on so-called “freedom day” to be “irreversible”, but in recent days ministers have begun to sound more cautious.
While social-distancing rules in England will come to an end, Government guidelines advise face masks should still be worn in enclosed spaces such as in shops and on public transport, while pubs and bars should be table service only.
Mr Hunt, chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said the way people behave as controls end will be crucial in determining the path of the pandemic over the coming months.
He pointed to the examples of Israel and the Netherlands, which have been forced to reintroduce controls despite high levels of vaccination like the UK.
“Covid hospital patients are doubling every two weeks. That means we are heading for 10,000 Covid hospital patients by the end of August, which is about 20 times higher than this time last year,” he said.
“I think coming into September we are almost certainly going to see infections reach a new daily peak going above the 68,000 daily level which was the previous daily record in January.