Sajid Javid has warned that Covid cases could get as high as 100,000 cases a day this summer as restrictions are lifted.
Last night Boris Johnson unveiled the government’s next steps in a televised address, with plans to scrap all social distancing measures and lift the mandatory requirement to wear face masks on public transport and shops on 19 July.
It comes as cases continue to soar, with 27,334 recorded yesterday and 50,000 thought to be in sight.
A further 358 patients were admitted to hospital over the last 24 hour period with nine deaths recorded.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the new health secretary described the situation as “unchartered territory”, but also stressed link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths had been “severely weakened”.
Mr Javid reiterated the prime minister’s comment yesterday that the government expects case numbers by 19 July — the date remaining sectors of the economy will be opened — will be around 50,000 new cases per day.
But he added: “As we ease and go into the summer, we expect them to rise significantly and could go as high as 100,000 case numbers.
Labour has criticised the prime minister’s plan to gamble on public responsibility and the immunity from vaccines as “reckless” and called for him to maintain protections such as mask-wearing.
Sir Keir Starmer said: “To throw off all protections at the same time when the infection rate is still going up is reckless.
“We need a balanced approach, we need to keep key protections in place, including masks, including ventilation and crucially… proper payments to those who need to self isolate.”
British Medical Association council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul also said it was “incredibly concerning” for Mr Johnson to “decide to go full steam” despite warnings over rising hospitalisations and deaths.
He urged ministers to ensure the wearing of masks is compulsory “until the rampant spread of infection has been brought under control and more of the population are fully vaccinated”.
“There is a clear disconnect with the actions the Government are planning to take and the data and views of the scientific community and medical profession,” Dr Nagpaul said.