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A top UK scientist has warned that a second nationwide lockdown is possible as some hospitals in northern England are already coming under pressure.

Professor Peter Horby, of the University of Oxford, said the country was in a precarious position with rising coronavirus case numbers, hospital admissions and deaths.

When asked on the Andrew Marr Show if the country faced a second national lockdown, Professor Horby said: “I think that’s a possibility and we have to do what we can to avoid that at all costs.”

He added: “We are already seeing in some parts of the North that some hospitals are starting to see the pressure.

“We have a doubling time of about eight to 15 days so it is not long before those ICU (intensive care unit) beds could be full and we could be in a really difficult situation.

“So I am afraid we are going to have to make some very difficult choices and act very quickly.”

It comes as the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 increased across every part of England on Saturday, rising to 1,167 in the north west from 725 previous week.

Professor Peter Horby, Chair of the UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, during a media briefing in Downing Street (PA)

A further 15,166 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were reported on Saturday, and 81 more deaths were confirmed of people who died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

Professor Horby, who is also chairman of the Government advisory group for New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said that the country had to accept more stringent measures to drive down transmission of the virus.

He told The Andrew Marr Show that suggestions of protecting the vulnerable and elderly while letting young people carry on as normal was “very, very challenging”.

“It’s very hard to identify who is a risk, it’s very hard to isolate the elderly completely,” he said.

“There’s still a need for home care, care homes, hospitals, etcetera.”

The Nervtag chairman explained that case numbers were much higher in the North because they had not been as low as the rest of the country and people were having more contact with others.

“There’s two primary reasons,” said the professor. “One is that in the North the numbers never really got down as low as they did in the rest of the country. Those parts of the country were a higher starting point.

“Second, we saw that over the summer that the surveys were showing that the number of contacts that people were having with each other were not as low in those parts of the country as elsewhere.

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“The underlying reasons for those two things are complex and may well be related to different labour markets, housing density, deprivation, etcetera.”

He also pointed out that while infections are rising, the risk of death for Covid-19 patients in hospitals was falling.

Professor Horby said: “It appears the risk of death in hospitalised patients is coming down.

“It was pretty high at about 25 per cent to 30 per cent in the last wave. It looks like it’s coming down to below 20 per cent.”

Scientists advising the Government said the current R value for the UK is between 1.2 and 1.5.

This is down slightly on last week when it was between 1.3 and 1.6.

Professor Peter Horby said it was difficult to know where coronavirus was being transmitted.

He added: “It is very clear transmission is happening where there is close contacts. It is happening in households, it’s also happening in the hospitality sector.

“It’s actually quite difficult to know where somebody picked up an infection.

“Everyone lives at home and we see high rates of transmission within homes but we can’t close homes.

“But we are also seeing transmission very clearly related to the hospitality sector but also some other industries.”