By Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) -Christmas may be difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, England's deputy chief medical officer warned on Wednesday, urging people to behave with caution and come forward for booster shots.
Britain reported 293 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, the highest daily figure since March, and there have been an average of around 40,000 new cases each day in recent weeks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted restrictions in England in July, and has said he plans to cope with COVID over the winter by relying on vaccinations rather than mandating masks or lockdowns.
"Too many people believe that this pandemic is now over. I personally feel there are some hard months to come in the winter and it is not over," Jonathan Van-Tam told BBC TV, adding that behaviour and the uptake of booster shots would determine how tough winter would be.
"Christmas and indeed all of the darker winter months are potentially going to be problematic."
Johnson has cited Britain's success in the initial vaccination rollout as he lifted restrictions, but a slower rollout of boosters means that for many vulnerable people, immunity could be waning.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has said that taking action now could reduce the need for tougher measures later.
Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, said he had stepped down from SAGE to focus on his work at the health charity, but added the situation was still worrying.
"The Covid-19 crisis is a long way from over," he said in a statement.
"The high levels of transmission seen in the UK remain concerning, but I stepped down as a participant of SAGE knowing ministers had been provided with most of the key science advice needed over the winter months."
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Sarah Young and Paul Sandle)