Chris Whitty warns the NHS will be overwhelmed in just 3 weeks with emergency patients being turned away from hospitals

PROFESSOR Chris Whitty has warned the NHS could be overwhelmed in just three weeks if Brits don’t follow lockdown rules. 

Writing in the Sunday Times, the Chief Medical Officer said emergency patients could be turned away from hospitals as the nation faces its “most serious moment” yet in the battle against coronavirus.

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Professor Whitty’s plea comes amid warnings from experts that current lockdown restrictions are “too lax” – and could fail to bring down the rate of infection if Brits ignore “stay at home” orders.

He wrote: “Earlier this week, the UK’s four chief medical officer and the NHS medical director recommended raising the national alert level to the maximum of level 5 for the first time. 

“This means that, without further action, there is a material risk of our healthcare services being overwhelmed within 21 days.”

The CMO warned that, since last Monday, the situation had “deteriorated further” – with hospitals facing “the most dangerous situation anyone can remember”. 

Should the surge in hospitalisations continue, Professor Whitty said “the time people wait for care will continue to increase to dangerously unsafe levels” – with nightmarish consequences for patients.

He added: “Hospitals will not have room to take redirected emergency cases in regional networks. 

“Staff-to-patient ratios — already stretched — will become unacceptable even in intensive care. There will be avoidable deaths.”

The CMO’s warning comes as Professor Neil Ferguson, the most vocal proponent of the first lockdown, said the number of coronavirus patients in hospital would soar by another 20 per cent. 

He told the Sunday Times: “It will be quite difficult to avoid another 20,000 deaths.”

Prof Ferguson, a member of the Nervtag group which advises the government on viruses, also said that London’s spiralling infection rate could, with the help of vaccination, see the country recover from the pandemic in Autumn.

He added: “We may see a decline, and that may be slightly aided by the fact that there is quite a lot of herd immunity in places like London.”


Ministers fear that Brits are not obeying the rules in the same way as the first lockdown of March last year, which saw a high level of public compliance. 

Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London, said the lockdown in its current form was “too lax” to tackle the new variant, believed to be up to 70 per cent more contagious. 

Responding to fears of a decline in public compliance, Professor Whitty has fronted a new TV campaign in which Brits are warned: “If you go out people will die”. 

Speaking in the advert, the Chief Medical Officer says: “Vaccines give clear hope for the future, but for now we must all stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

The campaign also urges people to “act like you've got it” adding that “anyone can spread it”.

Boris Johnson also issued a rallying cry to the nation on Saturday, warning “we must not be complacent” amid hopes that rapid vaccination could finally provide an exit strategy from the pandemic.

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