Ministers are considering tough new coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions as Boris Johnson said the long-feared second wave of the pandemic has arrived in the UK.
With new cases of the disease in England estimated to have doubled over the past week, the prime minister said they were keeping “everything under review”.
“Transmission at a faster rate” with deaths expected to rise
Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said its latest estimate “shows the number of infections has increased in recent weeks”.
Confirmed cases and hospital admissions for coronavirus are doubling every seven to eight days in the UK, according to the new data from the ONS.
The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said the R number had risen to between 1.1 and 1.4, meaning cases could rise very quickly. The R number represents the number of people an infected person will pass the virus on to. Last week, the R number was said to be between 1.0 and 1.2.
Although deaths are currently low, experts expect them to rise. Sage has said the R number “shows that we are moving to wider spread growth in transmission at a faster rate”.
Overall, an average of 6,000 people in England per day were estimated to be newly infected with coronavirus between 4-10 September. This is almost double the 3,200 people per day from 30 August to 5 September. The figures do not include people staying in hospitals or care homes.
Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England (PHE), said:
We’re seeing clear signs this virus is now spreading widely across all age groups and I am particularly worried by the increase in rates of admission to hospital and intensive care among older people.
This could be a warning of far worse things to come.
Early easing of lockdown contributed to second wave
Johnson is facing calls from the first ministers of Scotland and Wales to call a meeting of the government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee with the devolved administrations to consider the worsening situation.
Speaking during a visit to Oxford on Friday 18 September, Johnson said:
We are now seeing a second wave coming in. We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe – it has been absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable we were going to see it in this country
However, critics have pointed out that rather than being “inevitable”, easing lockdown restrictions too early has contributed to the second wave. This includes opening pubs and shops, encouraging restaurant visits with Eat Out to Help Out, encouraging people to return to work in offices, and reopening schools and colleges.
Still avoiding a national lockdown
Earlier on 18 September, health secretary Matt Hancock announced new restrictions for large parts of England’s North West, West Yorkshire and the Midlands.
The prime minister insisted he still wanted to avoid a second national lockdown. He added however:
Clearly when you look at what is happening, you have got to wonder whether we need to go further than the ‘rule of six’ that we have brought in on Monday.
His comments came as new confirmed daily cases of coronavirus hit 4,322 – the highest since 8 May.
The government is thought to be looking at a temporary two-week “circuit break”, with new controls across England in an attempt to break the chain of transmission and prevent a new spike in the disease.
The move could see hospitality and leisure venues forced to close their doors again, while socialising between households could be banned.
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