Improved care, new treatments and a change in the demographics of those infected mean the survival rate is now far higher than it was at the start of the pandemic. Flu is currently far more deadly. 

The briefing also appeared to back this up. Sir Patrick warned Britain was heading to around 200 deaths a day if cases reached 50,000. In contrast, cases never rose above 6,000 per day during the first wave, yet deaths peaked at 1,073 a day on April 7. 

Recent Oxford research shows that nearly one third of recorded Covid-19 deaths do not have the virus as the primary cause. The latest data also shows that positive trends are down in London, the South-East, the East, the East Midlands and the South-West. 

“There really must be a question mark over the need for new national measures,” said Professor Paton.

‘Timely reminder’ that pandemic accelerating

However, other scientists said the briefing was a “stark reminder” of what could happen under accelerating transmission.

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said the projection was clearly a “worst case scenario” but also a “timely reminder” that the pandemic was accelerating. 

“We are very unlikely to see cases at that level because interventions will be rolled out that restrict the spread of the virus, such as regional lockdowns,” he said. 

Professor Jackie Cassell, deputy Dean at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, said it was important to gain clarity on what exponential growth would mean for hospitals, deaths and the NHS.

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