TOUGH lockdown rules should stay in place until next year to deal with the winter "hump", an NHS chief today warned.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, believes it is too early to consider lifting the restrictive measures.
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She claimed the second lockdown is "absolutely critical" at the moment as it is the only way to stop the spread of coronavirus.
And Ms Cordery called for the strict rules to stay in place beyond December 2 into the new year to make sure we are through the "hump of winter-meets-coronavirus".
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, she said: "I think it would be really tempting to say 'OK this lockdown is working, let's lift all restrictions on December 2 and go back to where we were'.
"But I think that could put us in danger in terms both in controlling the spread of the virus and what it means for the NHS."
The chief also called for ministers to consider the amount of pressure the NHS is under as they scramble for a plan that will allow Brits to enjoy Christmas.
And she urged Brits not to get complacent as the R-rate dropping doesn't necessarily mean hospital admissions will also fall.
She said: "There's this huge hope (of a vaccine) among staff and among the general public and this sense of 'oh we can take our foot off the peddle now'.
"But actually we can't, we need to hold on just a little while longer until all of the elements are in place."
Her comments come amid fears that if lockdown is relaxed for a week over Christmas, a ripple effect will last until late December.
Families granted seven days of festive freedom from December 22 to 28 could then be slapped with "five days of tighter restrictions".
This paves the way for 25 days of lockdown in the New Year.
The Grinch plans come despite Matt Hancock last night declaring Britain is “heading in the right direction”.
The Health Secretary said the coronavirus second wave peak is “flattening” and revealed we are "clearly near" the peak.
He also said vaccinations will start next month if Pfizer's vaccine is cleared by the safety regulator.
While NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said "in the last few days" there "looks as if there's a levelling off" in hospital patients with coronavirus.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference last night, he said: "That is just a few days' data and it's important not to read too much into it yet. We need to see data over a few more days and into next week.
"We are starting to see evidence that, as a result of restrictions, infection rates are falling."
In another step in the right direction, the coronavirus R rate has fallen for the second week in a row – with only the South East above 1.
The crucial value – the number of people an infected person will pass Covid-19 on to – is estimated to be between 1.0 and 1.1.
When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially, but below that number would suggest the epidemic is shrinking.
The second national lockdown was enforced by the government after experts said a three tier system had not been sufficient at stopping the spread of the virus.
It came amid fears the closure of pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops could plunge the UK further into debt and have a devastating impact on mental health.
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