The UK is at a ‘critical point’ in the coronavirus pandemic, Professor Chris Whitty will warn in an address to the nation tomorrow as the Prime Minister lays out new measures to control a second devastating wave of coronavirus.
In a televised briefing on Monday, the chief medical officer for England will say the country faces a ‘very challenging winter’, with the current trend heading in ‘the wrong direction’.
His stark warning calling for tougher controls comes after Boris Johnson yesterday held talks with Professor Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance as he draws up a virus battle plan for the next six months.
It is thought the Prime Minister could announce new measures in a press conference as early as Tuesday.
The new measures comes after the Mail revealed that pubs that break the rules will be shut down on the spot in a planned new crackdown.
Bars and restaurants that allow big groups to gather or fail to collect customers’ details will be served with orders forcing them to close immediately. Pictured: People hit the town last night in Nottingham
Local authorities and the police will be encouraged to perform spot checks to ensure venues are meeting the requirements. Pictured: a group of girls walk through Birmingham City Centre last night
Professor Chris Whitty will say the country faces a ‘very challenging winter’ during his TV announcement
During his address, Prof Whitty, who will appear alongside the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, will explain how the virus is spreading in the UK and the potential scenarios that could unfold as winter approaches.
They will draw on data from other countries such as Spain and France, which are experiencing a second surge, to underline how their experience could be replicated in the UK.
Professor Whitty is expected to say: ‘The trend in the UK is heading in the wrong direction and we are at a critical point in the pandemic.
London ‘next for lockdown’
London is on the brink of lockdown, with millions of commuters set to be ordered to work from home.
Ministers will decide today whether to impose a lockdown on the capital, with Mayor Sadiq Khan pressing for ‘fast action’.
Mr Khan believes the city is just days behind the disease hotspots in the North West and North East of England and said a new lockdown is ‘increasingly likely’.
But London’s infection rate of 25 cases per 100,000 people is significantly lower than the national average of 34 and no areas of the capital are on Public Health England’s ‘watchlist’.
‘We are looking at the data to see how to manage the spread of the virus ahead of a very challenging winter period.’
The warning comes as it was revealed that bars and restaurants that allow big groups to gather or fail to collect customers’ details will be served with orders forcing them to close immediately.
Local authorities and the police will be encouraged to perform spot checks to ensure venues are meeting the requirements.
Downing Street last night warned the country is ‘in the last chance saloon’ with the prospect of more restrictive national measures, such as curfews, being imposed within days if people do not start following the rules.
Possible measures include forcing bars and restaurants to shut at 10pm each night, as has already happened in places such as Bolton and Newcastle. There may also be a ban on socialising with people from other households.
The Government is preparing to launch a major offensive to enforce the rules that are currently in place in a bid to minimise the need for further restrictions.
Mr Hancock yesterday warned: ‘We will come down hard on people who do the wrong thing.’
Senior Government officials have become concerned at scenes of drinkers crammed into bars or standing on the street outside in large groups.
They also fear that many places are not collecting the details of customers needed by the NHS Test and Trace service to contact the necessary people if outbreaks are identified in a venue.
On Sunday, another 3,899 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were announced, while a further 18 people died within 28 days of testing positive, bringing the UK total to 41,777.
The latest figures came after the Government announced that anyone in England refusing to obey an order to self-isolate could face a fine of up to £10,000.
The figures came as Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to rule out a second national lockdown in England if people failed to follow the social distancing rules.
Mr Hancock said that with hospital admissions for the disease doubling ‘every eight days or so’, further action was needed to prevent more deaths.
‘This country faces a tipping point,’ he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
‘If everybody follows the rules – and we will be increasingly stringent on the people who are not following the rules – then we can avoid further national lockdowns.
‘But we of course have to be prepared to take action if that’s what’s necessary.’
Mr Johnson has been desperate to avoid another nationwide lockdown amid concerns about the economic damage it will inflict just as activity was beginning to pick up again.
However, as of Tuesday, about 13.5 million people across the UK will be facing some form of local restrictions as the authorities grapple with the disease.
Mr Hancock said he was ‘very worried’ about the latest data which suggested Britain could be on the same path as Spain and France – where deaths and hospitalisations are increasing – without effective action.
Boris Johnson yesterday held talks with Professor Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance
‘I am very worried about this second wave. We have seen in other countries around Europe how it can absolutely shoot through the roof,’ he said.
‘When the case rate shoots up, the next thing that happens is the numbers going into hospital shoot up.
‘Sadly, we have seen that rise, it is doubling every eight days or so – people going into hospital, then, with a lag, you see the number of people dying sadly rise.’
Among the measures being considered by ministers is a temporary two-week ‘circuit break’, with tighter restrictions across England in an attempt to break the chain of transmission.
Earlier today London Mayor Sadiq Khan also pressed ministers to extend the controls to the capital, which he believes may be just ‘two or three days’ behind the hotspots of the North West and North East of England.
However, the Government is facing resistance from some senior Conservative MPs concerned that ministers are taking increasingly stringent powers with little or no parliamentary scrutiny.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 Committee, said he will table an amendment which would require the Government to put any new measures to a vote of MPs.
He indicated that he would take the opportunity to seek to amend the legislation when the Government comes to renew the emergency powers in the Coronavirus Act 2020.
Under the latest rules, from September 28 people in England will have a duty to self isolate for 14 days if they test positive for coronavirus, or they are instructed to do by NHS Test and Trace because they have been in contact with someone with the disease.
Fines for non-compliance will start at £1,000, rising to £10,000 for repeat offenders in the most ‘egregious’ cases.
People on benefits will be eligible for a one-off support payment of £500 if they face a loss of earnings as a result of being required to quarantine.
Sir Keir Starmer said Labour would support the measures but warned that a second national lockdown was becoming more likely because the Test and Trace programme was in a state of ‘near collapse’.
‘Because the Government’s now effectively lost control of testing, it doesn’t necessarily know where the virus is.
‘So if I was the prime minister, I would apologise for the fact that testing is all over the place,’ he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.
Since Friday, local authorities in England have had the power to issue fines of up to £4,000 on businesses that allow in groups of more than six people or fail to keep a record of those served.
But the Mail understands the Government is considering going further by giving councils the ability to take swift action by ordering immediate closure of premises.
Ministers are also looking at tightening the law so people are banned from ordering at the bar or counter. Retailers will be asked to encourage customers to comply with the requirement to wear a face covering in shops.
The Mail understands the Government is considering going further by giving councils the ability to take swift action by ordering immediate closure of premises. Pictured: Revellers hit the town on Saturday night in Newcastle
Mr Hancock (pictured) said that there was a danger the numbers could ‘shoot through the roof’ unless effective action was taken to halt the spread of the virus
A Cabinet minister said: ‘People have been registering in pubs as Donald Duck and providing made-up phone numbers, or not giving any contact details at all. So a crackdown is needed.’
From next week people will face fines of up to £10,000 if they refuse an order to self-isolate. Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick will present data on countries experiencing a second wave, such as France and Spain, and how this could be replicated here.
A Downing Street source said: ‘Infection rates are going up, we are in the grip of a second Covid wave and we’re now in the last chance saloon.’
They said Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick ‘will today set out the latest data and the stark reality we’re now facing’.
Mr Hancock said that there was a danger the numbers could ‘shoot through the roof’ unless effective action was taken to halt the spread of the virus.
Appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, he said ‘people have got more relaxed over the summer’ but ‘now is the moment when everybody needs to get back’ to following the rules.
Another 18 deaths were reported among people who had tested positive for coronavirus in the past 28 days. Last night there were 1,141 patients in England’s hospitals, up from 1,048 the day before and 661 a week ago.
Nearly a third of these patients are in the North West, while just 157 are in London.
Back in April, there were almost 5,000 coronavirus patients in London hospitals alone, and 20,000 across the UK.
Hancock: I’d shop neighbour
Matt Hancock has told Britons to alert the police about neighbours who refuse to self-isolate – and said he would too.
The Health Secretary’s call came only days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he disliked ‘sneak culture’.
Mr Hancock declared he would report rule-breakers to the authorities himself in a move which could see them fined up to £10,000 under stringent new rules in England.
Matt Hancock (pictured) has told Britons to alert the police about neighbours who refuse to self-isolate – and said he would too
His comments came when he was asked on Times Radio if the public should tell on people refusing to self-isolate. ‘Yes, because the number asked to self-isolate as a proportion of the population as a whole is relatively small and it’s so important,’ said Mr Hancock.
‘These are people who have been in close contact with somebody who had a positive result or themselves have had a positive test.’
Mr Hancock was also asked by Andrew Marr on his BBC show if he would snitch on a neighbour to police himself.
The Health Secretary replied: ‘Yes. And for the self-isolation part, that is absolutely necessary because that is how we break the chains of transmission.’
Mr Marr suggested it was ‘confused messaging’ from the Government after Mr Johnson’s comments.
Mr Hancock replied: ‘We’re extremely clear that people must follow the rules and if they don’t then we are bringing in this more stringent enforcement.’
A ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown would be madness
Commentary By Dr Renee Hoenderkamp
Of all the muddled, panicky, flip-flop responses by the Government to the Covid-19 pandemic, the introduction of a so-called ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown this week would be the worst yet.
Shutting down the country for two weeks will turn a dangerous situation into a disaster.
It’s precisely the wrong thing to do, at exactly the wrong time.
Six months ago, when the coronavirus took hold in Britain, the Prime Minister imposed a draconian lockdown that forced people to stay indoors. I warned at the time that this policy would have a devastating long-term effect on general healthcare – especially mental health – and it saddens me deeply that I was proved right.
Six months ago, when the coronavirus took hold in Britain, the Prime Minister (pictured) imposed a draconian lockdown that forced people to stay indoors
What I did not foresee, back in March, was how Covid-19 would be channelled by the lockdown into the very places that sheltered Britain’s most vulnerable people: our care homes.
Segments of the population that were at minimal risk – the young and generally healthy – were the ones most protected against infection. The ones most at risk were left to bear the brunt and the results were unutterably horrific.
A lockdown that we were promised would not last more than a few weeks limped on for the whole summer. We didn’t really emerge until this month, when the schools reopened.
And what happened? Exactly what anyone could predict – the disease re-emerged too. Of course it did, because it had never gone away. It had been circulating at a low level, waiting to surge back among a population with no degree of immunity. Now we are experiencing levels of rising infection similar to what we saw in February, at the start of the crisis.
But here’s the awful difference: it’s now late September and winter is on its way. With winter come flu and pneumonia, and as every GP knows, they are killers.
Britain does not shut down for flu every year. In fact, we barely talk about it. Some people have vaccines, others don’t bother – in seven of the past ten years, the jab has proved less than 50 per cent effective. Pictured: A sign for a coronavirus testing station in Manchester
Already, they are taking hold. Two weeks ago, according to the Office for National Statistics, 991 deaths were attributed to flu and pneumonia, Covid-19 or both over a seven-day period.
Yet in the same period, the ONS data showed only 78 official deaths of patients who tested positive for Covid-19 within the past month (though this doesn’t mean the virus caused all the deaths).
These figures show that flu and pneumonia are currently roughly ten times as deadly… and according to the ONS, flu season hasn’t even started yet.
The peak months are regarded as October to May, hitting the worst patch after Christmas. Britain does not shut down for flu every year. In fact, we barely talk about it. Some people have vaccines, others don’t bother – in seven of the past ten years, the jab has proved less than 50 per cent effective.
Developing a reliable flu vaccine relies on predicting which particular strains of flu are most likely to appear the following winter so can be very off-target, yet this failure is almost never discussed in the media. It certainly is not the cause of national panic.
To be considering a country-wide lockdown to control Covid-19, when flu and pneumonia are currently so much more virulent, is sheer insanity. The dire effects on general and mental health which we suffered over the summer will simply be compounded.
Since there is little feasible chance of a safe and effective vaccine any time soon, we should have been striving for mass immunity among the healthy population. Pictured: A Coronavirus testing centre in Leicester
And in two weeks’ time, or whenever we disconnect the ‘circuit breaker’, the coronavirus will surge back. This time, we will be facing its effects during the flu season, when many more people will be compromised by flu and even less able to fight Covid-19.
The optimum time for dealing with this novel coronavirus has already passed. Since there is little feasible chance of a safe and effective vaccine any time soon, we should have been striving for mass immunity among the healthy population.
If the majority of people who are unlikely to suffer much ill effect could catch the infection, and get over it safely, they would be much less likely to transmit it to the vulnerable during the winter.
This strategy goes by the ugly name of herd immunity, an unfeeling name for the most compassionate policy.
I am certainly not belittling the severity of Covid-19. It is more contagious than common flu and it attacks the body in more varied ways. This is a scary disease. But we cannot fight it with fear.
We can’t wait for a vaccine, and we can’t hide from the virus. Trying to eradicate an endemic disease with a short ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown is unscientific nonsense (stock image)
We also cannot fight it at the moment with a vaccine. There isn’t one, and I must admit that I would be wary of any inoculation that hasn’t been thoroughly tested. I am ardently pro-vaccine, and I’ve made certain that my toddler got every jab going. But before they can be deemed safe, all drugs need to be properly evaluated, and that takes time.
We must not rush the job just because it’s politically expedient. And yet the Government appears to be doing just that.
The only safe, humane response is to shield the vulnerable and encourage the rest of the population to build up collective immunity.
We can’t wait for a vaccine, and we can’t hide from the virus. Trying to eradicate an endemic disease with a short ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown is unscientific nonsense.
Instead, we need to look after the people at most risk, by ringfencing their jobs and paying their bills while they self-isolate.
Nobody should have to fear losing their employment or defaulting on their mortgage. The cost of this, while significant, would be minimal compared with the expense of the furlough scheme.
And while they stay safe, the rest of us need to get back into the real world and learn to live with the virus. It’s here, and it’s not going away. Our best defence is collective immunity. Accept it, and let’s get on with our lives.
Dr Hoenderkamp is an NHS GP