Home / UK News / UK records 3,395 new Covid-19 cases as outbreak grows again

UK records 3,395 new Covid-19 cases as outbreak grows again

Coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and deaths are all on the rise, government figures revealed today as Boris Johnson threatened the nation with tougher lockdown measures unless the outbreak is halted and Britain ‘flattens the hump of the camel’.

Another 3,395 Covid-19 infections were recorded today, meaning the rolling seven-day average number of cases has risen 2 per cent in a day and 33 per cent in a week to 3,354. Nearly 4,000 new positive tests were confirmed yesterday, in what was the biggest daily rise since May 8.

Hospital admissions — another way of measuring the severity of the crisis — have jumped once again in England, with 194 newly-infected patients requiring NHS care on Tuesday. It means 154 new admissions are being recorded each day, on average — triple the figure of 52 a fortnight ago on September 1. 

Britain today also posted 21 more Covid-19 deaths, with 18 in England and three in Wales. None were registered in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Analysis shows 14 patients are now succumbing to the life-threatening illness each day, on average — double the figure of seven a fortnight ago.

Boris Johnson today pleaded with Britons to ‘save Christmas’ by obeying the ‘Rule of Six’ or face tougher measures if the country fails to ‘flatten the hump of the camel’. Downing Street has been forced to fend off claims that chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty is pushing for a two-week national lockdown.

And Matt Hancock today confirmed pubs in the North East will be under a 10pm curfew from tomorrow and that residents living in Newcastle and six other authorities are banned from socialising with people outside their own households because of a spike in cases. Around 9million people are now living under tougher lockdown rules.

But top experts today dismissed fears the outbreak is surging out of control again. Professor Carl Heneghan, an expert in evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, today warned the government is losing the nation’s trust and called on ministers to ‘slow down’ and think carefully about whether more action is actually necessary. 

Daily cases are still nowhere near the levels actually being seen in the darkest days of Britain’s coronavirus crisis in March and April, when it was estimated 100,000 people were falling ill daily. Only a fraction of the infections were being recorded at the time because of the government’s lacklustre testing policy.

Other scientists admit the trend in data is ‘troubling’ and separate data has already revealed it is not just the young who are getting infected, with infections up across the board. And some argue deaths have yet to surge because it can take patients weeks to die of the disease, meaning the growing spread of the virus may not have triggered a surge in deaths.  

In other coronavirus developments in Britain today:

  • Desperate Boris Johnson was accused of ‘thrashing about’ as he pleaded for Britons to ‘save Christmas’ by obeying his controversial ‘Rule of Six’;
  • And the PM said members of the public should not report their neighbours for breaching the ‘Rule of Six’ unless they are having large parties, directly contradicting his own Home Secretary’s advice; 
  • Health Minister Edward Argar failed to rule out a return to compulsory working from home in England, insisting that there are currently ‘no plans’ to make it compulsory despite the spike in cases; 
  • Ministers claimed that two-thirds of workers have returned to offices across the UK, while rail ticket sales fell by a massive 85 per cent on last year;
  • Children only suffering from a runny nose ‘absolutely’ do not have coronavirus, a top expert warned amid calls for Britons to stop getting tested unnecessarily; 
  • Shocking data revealed 98 per cent of people taking home Covid-19 tests do not get their result within 24 hours as Number 10’s target of turning all tests around within a day slipped even further out of reach.

Hospital admissions — another way of measuring the severity of the pandemic — have doubled in England over the past ten days. More than 150 newly-infected patients required NHS treatment on Sunday, up from a rolling seven-day average of 52 on the last day of August

Professor Carl Heneghan, of Oxford University, warned the government is losing the nation’s trust and called on ministers to ‘slow down’ and think carefully about whether more action is needed. He admitted cases have started to surge following the Bank Holiday Monday of September 2 but urged No 10 to dial its language back.

Experts do admit, however, that the spike in cases — which have doubled in a fortnight — is ‘troubling’. 

But the daily cases being recorded now simply can’t be compared to what occurred in the UK in the first wave, say experts, because of a lack of testing. Around 6,000 infections were announced on the worst days in April but only 15,000 Britons were being swabbed each day and tests were restricted to the most severely-ill. 

Since then health chiefs have drastically ramped up test capacity to carry out 200,000 swabs a day, theoretically allowing anyone with symptoms — not just society’s most vulnerable — to get tested.

There are now dozens of negative cases for every positive one, showing that large proportions of people who think they have Covid-19 actually don’t – the opposite was true in the first wave when most people who were tested did have it. Data shows around 340 cases were found for every 1,000 tests at the start of April, a figure which is now around 14.

Professor Carl Heneghan, of Oxford University, dismissed the idea that the disease was ‘out of control’ again.

‘Most of the problems here occurred if you look at the data, after the Bank Holiday Monday, from about the 2nd of September onwards,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘You can argue here that one of the issues here that happened was significant people met over that weekend, and then we’ve had a bit of a surge.

‘But the language of ‘out of control, we need more testing, this is terrible’ needs to be dialled back. Look, we have problems, significant problems, but we also have shifting policy every day now.

‘I think what we’ve got a huge problem here, we are losing the trust of the population… This is a huge moment right now, and what we have to do is slow down our thinking, pause and start to be more analytical about the steps we take.

‘We rush in, like with the test and trace programme, it is falling over.’

The rate of positive tests per thousand has been as low as 5.1, at the end of July, after dropping below 100 at the start of May, when public testing became allowed. It fell to below 10 at the start of July and reached a low of 5.1 towards the end of the month.

But the rate has suddenly started to increase again, rising from 7.9 on September 1 to 14 on September 14, which is the most recent daily data available.

This is despite the government claiming the number of tests being carried out in the UK has barely changed and still stands at more than 200,000, despite an ongoing testing fiasco which has seen thousands of people, including doctors and nurses, miss out on swabs.

World Health Organization (WHO) chiefs claimed in May that a test positivity rate of below five per cent was a good indicator that an outbreak is under control.

Test positivity is considered one of the most accurate ways of tracking whether an increase in cases is really down to more swabbing, or because of an actual flare-up in transmission.

Professor Ronald Fricker, a statistician at Virginia Tech University, said: ‘If you catch a fish almost every time you send the net down (high positivity), that tells you there are probably a lot of fish around that you haven’t caught.’

HOW DOES TESTING AFFECT CASE NUMBERS?

If more people are being tested for Covid-19, this will show up in cases data, experts say. On the surface, it may look like a spike in infections, but is not necessarily something to worry about because it just means more people are being diagnosed than before, when testing was limited to those in hospital.

Professor Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics, The Open University, said: ‘In the early stages of the pandemic, there was far less availability of testing in most countries than there now is. So one reason there are more cases is just that people have got better at looking for and finding them.’

And Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis at University of Bath, said: Test more people, you will find more positives.

‘Initially, testing was restricted to those reporting symptoms, but this has eased and it’s now possible for a wider range of people to request tests.’ 

Testing capacity has rapidly increased over the course of the pandemic in order to reach more people. And this has caused a slight increase in the number of people getting a positive result – but not to levels that suggest prevalence of the virus is soaring. 

A significantly higher number of people are being tested since July – when diagnosed cases were at their lowest, NHS Test and Trace data shows.

Some 442,392 people were tested between 13 August and 19 August – an almost 20 per cent increase on the 355,597 tested between July 9 and 15.

However, the positive result rate only slightly went up, from 1.12 per cent to 1.4 per cent in the same period. This shows there were not that many more people testing positive compared to negative in August than in July.

Other data from Public Health England reveals a similar trend over the course of the pandemic. 

Testing has increased vastly from no more than 13,000 tests per day at the start of April to around 150,000 in July. 

During the same period, positive test results in Pillar 2 – which are those outside of hospitals and care homes –  went drastically down from a peak of 5.2 per cent in May to 1.4 per cent in mid-July, showing that less people were testing positive for the coronavirus despite testing reaching thousands more people.

This figure has risen slightly over this month from 1.6 per cent to 2.1 per cent in the week ending August 23. But it’s a small increase when comparing with the 5 per cent seen in May. Testing has shot up to almost 200,000 per day this month.

Commenting on these figures, Dr Duncan Young, a professor of intensive care medicine at University of Oxford, told MailOnline: ‘It is therefore very possible that the increase in cases is mostly related to increased testing, but will a small additional effect from the increased prevalence.’

Despite this, it doesn’t necessarily rule out that transmission of the disease is, indeed, climbing. 

Scientists admit that the evident rise in cases will be driven by more transmission in the community as a result of easing lockdown restrictions. 

‘But the position isn’t like it was back in March and April,’ Professor McConway said. 

‘The level of cases [in the UK] remains a very long way below what it was at the peak of the pandemic here in March and April.’

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In a article published on The Conversation, he wrote: ‘On the other hand, if you use a huge net – more testing – and only catch a fish every once in a while you can be pretty sure that you’ve caught most of the fish in the area.’

Professor Fricker claimed the only two ways to lower the test positivity rate is by decreasing the number of cases, or by ramping up swabbing capacity. He said: ‘A comprehensive testing program does both.’

Dr Andrew Preston, an infectious disease expert based at the University of Bath, told MailOnline: ‘There is a lot of troubling data, but we are not near the stage of the peak.

‘I don’t think we will end up back in the situation we had in March and April as people are more wary now. We know who is at risk of the disease and those people’s behaviour has changed dramatically since March.’

He added: ‘We probably did go through a spell we were testing most of symptomatic cases in May and June. But we are currently stalling, so we still don’t really have a firm idea of where the pinch points are.

‘If we just go testing cases where it’s clear there is probably infection – where people are asymptomatic – I don’t think it will do enough to stamp out the infection.’

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, added: ‘Making comparisons with what was previously detected and tested is difficult because we are testing a different part of the population.

‘As it stands, it’s not appropriate or accurate to make any comparisons with levels of infectious now and what was happening during the peak. Because we were not doing as much widespread testing to use as a benchmark.

‘France is a good comparison because it looks like we are a couple of weeks behind them. We’ve got to try and contain the infection and the only way to do that is to test, trace and isolate in the absence of a vaccine.’

Separate figures show hospital admissions in England — another way of measuring the severity of the pandemic — are starting to rise again.

Another 172 newly-infected patients needed NHS treatment on Monday, with the figure being above 100 for almost a week. For comparison, the average number of admissions dropped to just 45 at the end of August.

Rising numbers of people being admitted to hospital generally follow a rise in cases by three or more weeks, meaning the number could continue to rise in coming days, weeks and months.

One of the biggest fears, and the one that led the country into lockdown the first time, was that so many people would be hospitalised that the NHS would crumble. 

But this level of severe infection appears a long way off this time around.

Professor Carl Heneghan, an expert in evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, told MailOnline: ‘[Lockdown] was about flattening the curve to protect the NHS, which was we were accepting the virus was circulating and the major issue was to protect hospitals. 

‘But they are not overwhelmed and they haven’t been for some time.

‘Some people consider we can eliminate the virus [but it] is in every corner of the UK – at some point you have to accept its endemic like many other seasonal illnesses.

‘It’s highly predictable that if we go back about our daily lives, there is an increase in the circulation of daily pathogens – right now you’ve got rhinovirus [common cold virus] – we accept they are circulating in the community. 

‘Once you accept that, you start to have a strategy to see who is most at risk, and focus on containment of that.

‘In Germany, the [Covid-19] case fatality rate in over-70s is the same as across Europe. But what they have managed to do is protect the most vulnerable, because they accept the virus is out there.’

Experts say that rising numbers of tests being done will also translate to more people getting diagnosed, although this cannot explain away an increase in the number of people going into hospital.  

On the surface, rising cases may look like a spike in infections, but is not necessarily something to worry about because it just means more people are being diagnosed than before, when testing was limited to those in hospital.

Professor Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said: ‘In the early stages of the pandemic, there was far less availability of testing in most countries than there now is. So one reason there are more cases is just that people have got better at looking for and finding them.’

And Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis at University of Bath, said: ‘Test more people, you will find more positives.

‘Initially, testing was restricted to those reporting symptoms, but this has eased and it’s now possible for a wider range of people to request tests.’ 

Testing capacity has rapidly increased over the course of the pandemic in order to reach more people. And this has caused a slight increase in the number of people getting a positive result. 

Tests are also being rationed and directed at areas where there are known, or feared, to be local outbreaks of the disease. Targeted testing, therefore, successfully finds people who may have been missed by a broader approach.  

DOES DATA SHOW A ‘SECOND HUMP’ IS COMING? 

Officials are worried about a second wave of coronavirus because national data shows that cases and hospitalisations caused by Covid-19 are rising.

In the past two weeks, the number of people being diagnosed with the disease each day has risen from an average 1,404 on Wednesday, September 2, to 3,286 yesterday, September 16.

This is based on a seven-day rolling average, and the total number of cases announced yesterday was 3,991 compared to 1,508 a fortnight earlier – more than double.

Numbers of people being admitted to hospital are up, too.

As of Monday, September 14 – the most recent data available – an average 140 people per day were being admitted to NHS England hospitals each day. This was up almost three times on the average 56 per day two weeks ago and from a low of 45 in the last week of August.

There were 172 admissions on September 14, compared to 79 on September 2.  

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Scientists admit, however, that cases are undoubtedly rising at some level and this will be driven by more transmission in the community as a result of easing lockdown restrictions.  

In the past two weeks, the number of people being diagnosed with the disease each day has risen from an average 1,404 on Wednesday, September 2, to 3,286 yesterday, September 16.

This is based on a seven-day rolling average, and the total number of cases announced yesterday was 3,991 compared to 1,508 a fortnight earlier – more than double.

Numbers of people being admitted to hospital are up, too.

As of Monday, September 14 – the most recent data available – an average 140 people per day were being admitted to NHS England hospitals each day. This was up almost three times on the average 56 per day two weeks ago and from a low of 45 in the last week of August.

There were 172 admissions on September 14, compared to 79 on September 2.  

‘But the position isn’t like it was back in March and April,’ Professor McConway said. 

‘The level of cases [in the UK] remains a very long way below what it was at the peak of the pandemic here in March and April.’

The question experts and politicians face now is what to do about the rise in cases. Currently, the Government is sticking to its whack-a-mole local lockdown approach, with tighter rules on socialising applied nationally.

Another national lockdown is the option of last resort for most.

Professor Heneghan said: ‘What I’m not advocating is just open up society, let the infection run riot. We are advocating to flatten the curve, have sensible policies and look at other countries like Germany and Sweden. You see the major change is to protect the most vulnerable and not lockdown…  

How hospital admissions have changed over time: Data shows how they peaked at more than 3,000 admission a day at the start of April. Circled in red is the most recent four weeks worth of data

How hospital admissions have changed over time: Data shows how they peaked at more than 3,000 admission a day at the start of April. Circled in red is the most recent four weeks worth of data

‘In summer, the virus circulates at low level with low impact, but that builds up immunity. That’s what’s happened. If you don’t open up and let that happen you end up with problems.

‘We are having masks, quarantining and air bridges, rules of six – what’s happening here is because none of them are working, we are just seeing more and more measures.’

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, disagrees and believes it is a good idea to tighten up rules and get transmission down before winter, when the virus will be harder to control.

He told MailOnline: ‘If we are going to ensure that this period is as virus free as possible – and I often point out it’s going to be impossible to eliminate it – now is probably a good time to react. Because this virus, or the situations around it, clearly changes very quickly. Lockdowns are behind the curve, and that is the last thing we want.

‘I think there is a good chance winter conditions will help with the spread of this virus so if we can keep, or get, the viral load in the population down as much as possible, then that reduces the risk. 

‘If you had pretty restrictions around Christmas they would still be overwhelming, never mind a lockdown – that would be a disaster. I don’t think anyone wants to be told they can only have a certain number of people round at Christmas.

‘Cases compared to peak – they are not yet comparable. But do we want to get there? That’s my point about getting ahead of the curve. A lockdown is an emergency measure. It’s to stop the virus in its tracks and it is risking overwhelming the health service. People are forgetting that was what the lockdown was for.’

Testing is a shambles, more and more local lock-downs are on the way but blustering Boris Johnson claims that if we all behave ourselves and ‘flatten the second hump of the camel’ he will ‘save Christmas’ (it’s a dromedary by the way) 

Desperate Boris Johnson today pleaded for Britons to ‘save Christmas’ by obeying his ‘Rule of Six’ – warning that lockdown will only get stricter if the country does not ‘flatten the hump of the camel’.

The PM begged the public to keep faith with his draconian rules despite the testing system descending into a shambles, with fears schools and offices will have to shut because people with mild symptoms cannot prove they are negative. 

Amid bitter clashes between experts over the best way to respond to the spike in Covid cases, the North East is the latest area facing new curbs, including forcing pubs to shut at 10pm and a ban on households socialising with anyone else.

In London, public health chiefs have warned of looming curfews, while ministers have hinted that the edict for everyone to work from home could be reinstated soon if infections do not come back under control.

The new rules for the North East are expected to come into force just after midnight after a dramatic rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in the area. 

In an interview with The Sun justifying his agenda, Mr Johnson emphasised that social restrictions, localised lockdowns, and a ‘ramped up’ testing were being used in a bid to prevent a second wave.

He warned: ‘The only way to make sure the country is able to enjoy Christmas is to be tough now.’  

Boris Johnson said new rules could be imposed on the country if people don't obey the new 'rule of six' and halt the pandemic in its tracks.

Boris Johnson said new rules could be imposed on the country if people don’t obey the new ‘rule of six’ and halt the pandemic in its tracks.

Although cases have been surging over 3,000 a day, it was initially among younger people, who are less likely to be badly affected. 

But now Covid-19 cases are soaring among middle-aged people in England and have risen by upwards of 90 per cent in a fortnight as the outbreak continues to grow.

The PM claimed the chart of infections is starting to resemble a camel’s back, so ministers are implementing new measures to ensure the virus doesn’t ‘rip’ through the country. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘All this is to say that: Christmas we want to protect, and we want everyone to have a fantastic Christmas.

‘But the only way to make sure the country is able to enjoy Christmas is to be tough now. So if we can grip it now, stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump.

SECOND WAVE WON’T BE AS BAD, GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS CLAIM 

A second wave of Covid-19 in Britain would not be nearly as bad as the first because we are better at containing and treating the virus now, Government officials have claimed. 

One reason for this prediction is the fact that we now know so much more about the virus. This includes medical advances, such as the discovery that steroid treatment dexamethasone can cut the risk of death from coronavirus by a third.

Officials also say that local lockdowns – and the beleaguered test and trace service – have successfully prevented recent outbreaks from spreading more widely.

Nonetheless, they stress that it is wrong to assume that the virus is only circulating among the young. While many new cases are patients aged between 17 and 21, the latest statistics show infection rates for those in their 50s and 60s are now as high as they were for those in their 20s several weeks ago.

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‘Dromedary or camel? I can’t remember if it is a dromedary or a camel that has two humps? Umm. Please check.

‘Anyway a double hump. So that is what we need to do!’

There were claims today that chief medical officer Chris Whitty has been urging an immediate two-week national lockdown, and the true number of daily cases could be 38,000.  

But Professor Carl Heneghan of Oxford University dismissed the idea that the disease was ‘out of control’ again.

‘Most of the problems here occurred if you look at the data, after the Bank Holiday Monday, from about the 2nd of September onwards,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘You can argue here that one of the issues here that happened was significant people met over that weekend, and then we’ve had a bit of a surge.

‘But the language of ‘out of control, we need more testing, this is terrible’ needs to be dialled back. Look, we have problems, significant problems, but we also have shifting policy every day now.

‘I think what we’ve got a huge problem here, we are losing the trust of the population… This is a huge moment right now, and what we have to do is slow down our thinking, pause and start to be more analytical about the steps we take.

‘We rush in, like with the test and trace programme, it is falling over.’

But Dr Adam Kucharski, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the lack of testing meant ‘blunt tools’ were needed to control the outbreak.

‘I think we are getting to the point where potentially we are losing our ability to accurately track the virus,’ he told Today.

‘That means that we could have a situation where it is getting into risk groups, we start to see more cases appear and we don’t have good warning of that.

‘It also affects our ability to have more targeted, nuanced measures. If we lose the ability to track the virus it ends up that more blunt tools will be deployed. That is what we saw earlier in the year.’

Health Minister Edward Argar played down the idea of a two-week national lockdown.

Covid testing chief Dido Harding faces grilling from MPs as system teeters on the verge of collapse 

Testing tsar Dido Harding is facing a grilling from MPs today with the system teetering on the verge of collapse.

The Tory peer is set to give evidence to politicians amid anger that coronavirus screening has turned into a ‘chaotic disaster’, with thousands of people struggling to get checked even though a rise in cases was predictable.

In a sign of the shambles engulfing the arrangements, the government has even stopped publishing figures on its total capacity – with claims that labs have been exaggerating how many samples they can process.

There are fears that the country could be plunged into a ‘lockdown by default’ because people with mild symptoms cannot prove they are negative and have to stay in quarantine.

Experts say that perhaps half a million people a day will develop Covid-like symptoms at this time of year, even in a normal times. Hundreds of schools are already believed to be partly or fully closed due to pupils and teachers having to self-isolate. 

Politicians have questioned why Lady Harding was appointed, amid a public furore over the national shortage of Covid tests.

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‘It is not something I have seen within the department,’ he told Sky News.

‘The Prime Minister has been very clear on this. He doesn’t want to see another national lockdown. He wants to see people abiding by the regulations and making the local lockdowns work.’

Mr Argar said the North East was now seeing a spike in cases similar to that in the North West.

‘In the North East we are seeing a spike in infections. It is exactly what we have seen in the North West. We monitor that rate. Where we need to, we step in and take action,’ he said.

Mr Argar said that in the North West, the rise had been driven in part by people not adhering to the social distancing requirements – and blamed pubs.

‘Obviously a nighttime economy will fuel that with people having been out late into the evening.’

Kevan Jones, Labour MP for Durham North – one of the areas set to be plunged into lockdown – told MailOnline the government had ‘totally lost control’ and was ‘thrashing around’.

He said the Department of Health had moved mobile testing sites out of Country Durham just last week, with no explanation.

‘It’s an absolute mess. I’ve got people who can’t get results or tests. I’ve got someone who lives just outside Durham and was given the nearest test as Aberdeen airport.’

Mr Jones said the claim from ministers that the ‘worried well’ were breaking the system was nonsense.

‘It’s not the worried well. I’ve even got NHS workers who can’t get tests. They have just lost control.’

‘You don’t need the restrictions if you get test and trading done.’

‘Hancock is completely out of his depth.’

‘It’s going to be over by Christmas? It’s just rubbish. They haven’t got a clue.’ 

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said ‘additional, temporary’ measures are being planned to prevent another full lockdown. Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to make a formal announcement this morning.

The restrictions will reportedly apply to Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, County Durham and Sunderland – which have all seen rises in cases, according to the latest weekly rates.

The lockdown measure will include a 10pm curfew on pubs, restaurants and other licensed premises and people will be banned from socialising with anyone outside their household, as reported by ChronicleLive.

Other possible restrictions include people being told not to go on holiday with different households and spectators advised not to attend sporting venues.

Care home visits could be restricted to essential visitors, and people will be advised to avoid public transport at peak times except for essential journeys, and to avoid car-shares.

Workers prepare ahead of opening at a Coronavirus testing centre in Southwark, south London on Wednesday

Workers prepare ahead of opening at a Coronavirus testing centre in Southwark, south London on Wednesday

People queue at a test centre following an outbreak of the coronavirus  in Southend-on-sea, Essex, on Wednesday

People queue at a test centre following an outbreak of the coronavirus  in Southend-on-sea, Essex, on Wednesday 

Curfews, pub closures and small gatherings only: how the UK could throttle second wave

Britain could follow the example of Belgium in taking steps to throttle the rising number of coronavirus cases.

Brussels was able to curtail a second wave of coronavirus by limiting the number of people who could socialise together and imposing a nationwide curfew. 

The European country experienced a resurgence of the virus in mid-July that was comparable to the UK’s current trajectory.

On July 29, officials there brought in new rules reduced the number of people who could socialise together from 15 to five and introduced a 10pm curfew on the entire population.

Coronavirus infections started to rise in Belgium in mid-July, with the weekly case rate going over 35 per 100,000 by August- the level currently being felt in Britain – and daily infections breaching 1,000. The numbers have fallen over recent weeks, with only 194 new cases reported on September 1.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is among those who have praised the actions of the Belgian Government to  tackle the outbreak.

Last week he said Belgium was a ‘clear indication that if you act rapidly and decisively when these changes are happening, there is a reasonable or good chance of bringing the rates back down under control.’ 

Such a move would allow people to go still go to work and school but would place curbs on nightlife, which could place high pressure on the hospitality industry, with pubs and restaurants forced to close early. 

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Mr Forbes tweeted: ‘Some additional, temporary restrictions are being planned to prevent another full lockdown.’

The most recent figures show Newcastle to have recorded a sharp increase in its weekly rate, up from 51.2 to 64.1, with 194 new cases in the seven days to September 13. 

On a more national scale, business leaders claimed employers will be left with no choice but to send staff to work from home due to the shortage of Covid-19 tests.

Such a move would put a sizeable dent in the little progress that has been made to boost the economy since certain restrictions were eased.

Testing tsar Dido Harding is facing a grilling from MPs today with the system teetering on the verge of collapse.

The Tory peer is set to give evidence to politicians amid anger that coronavirus screening has turned into a ‘chaotic disaster’, with thousands of people struggling to get checked even though a rise in cases was predictable.

In a sign of the shambles engulfing the arrangements, the government has even stopped publishing figures on its total capacity for the past week – with claims that labs have been exaggerating how many samples they can process.

There are fears that the country could be plunged into a ‘lockdown by default’ because people with mild symptoms cannot prove they are negative and have to stay in quarantine.

Experts say that perhaps half a million people a day will develop Covid-like symptoms at this time of year, even in a normal times. Hundreds of schools are already believed to be partly or fully closed due to pupils and teachers having to self-isolate. 

Politicians have questioned why Lady Harding was appointed.

Mr Jones said she had ‘no experience’ and the responsibility should be given to local officials who had a background dealing with outbreaks of diseases such as TB.

‘It comes back to the fact she’s got no experience in public health. Local directors of public health, they know how to do test and trace. It’s what they do,’ he said. 

A fortnight would be needed to determine whether Mr Johnson’s new rule of banning gatherings of seven or more people had successfully reduced infections, senior government sources told the Telegraph, adding that further lockdown measures may be required if not.

Official messaging of ‘go to work if you can’, repeated by the Prime Minister in recent weeks, appears to have been dropped, while No10 has also insisted there is no ‘back to work’ campaign being driven in the same way other key advice is being communicated with the public.

However, telling workers to stop going back to their desks would inflict further woe on pubs, cafes and restaurants which have already struggled during the pandemic and are only recently reaping the benefits of more footfall and schemes such as Eat Out to Help Out.

Matthew Fell, the UK chief policy director of the CBI, said: ‘If we are to successfully encourage more people into their workplace safely, then the test and trace system will be a key component.’

Adam Marshall, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, added: ‘A truly comprehensive test and trace programme is essential if the UK is to manage the virus without further lockdowns, which will cripple businesses. Continuing delays and a shortage of tests saps business, staff and consumer confidence at a fragile moment for the economy.’

Many companies with headquarters in London's city centre have only a fraction of their total workforces back in the office

Many companies with headquarters in London’s city centre have only a fraction of their total workforces back in the office

The concourse at London's Waterloo station - which is one of the capital's busiest - during the rush hour earlier this month

The concourse at London’s Waterloo station – which is one of the capital’s busiest – during the rush hour earlier this month

More than half of workers expect NEVER to return to a five-day working week in the office, survey finds 

More than half of workers have said they never expect to return to a five-day working week in the office, a new survey by broadband provider TalkTalk has found.

A new report called ‘Lockdown Lessons’ also found that 58% of people in employment said they felt more productive as a result of working from home.

Bosses also agreed, with 30% of business leaders saying the changes had seen a boost in productivity and 35% said the moves had seen more collaboration.

The new working arrangements for millions of office workers also found that with the commute being removed, many are turning to learning a new skill or hobby, the survey found.

Around 40% said they had watched an online educational video during lockdown and 16% enrolled in an online learning course.

In other areas, nearly one-in-four work-from-home staff started learning a new language, with a similar number also learning new cooking methods. Around 15% said they researched baking and 13% learned about gardening.

TalkTalk added that internet usage during lockdown increased 40% year-on-year and has remained at high levels, despite the relaxation of rules and the reopening of pubs and restaurants. Uploads have also increased significantly, the data found.

The company is hoping the increase in work-from-home staff will lead to demand for more reliable internet and has launched a business-quality broadband service for companies willing to install faster connections in workers’ homes.

But less than half – 40% – of business leaders said they have provided financial support to employees for phone or home broadband bills and only one in four have invested in mental health and wellbeing apps for staff.

The survey also found that 62% of bosses believe they can save money to spend on upgrading home working due to less work trip costs and 45% said company entertainment spend is also expected to fall.

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Meanwhile, a public health chief has suggested curfews could be imposed in London to help fight a potential second wave.

Professor Kevin Fenton, London director of Public Health England, highlighted an influx of around half a million students to the capital from across the UK and around the world as a potential hazard for increased infections.

The London director of Public Health England also warned the city’s testing capacity was struggling to cope with demand, as resources are piled in to help hotspot areas,

About 500,000 students are coming to London from around the country and world for the start of term which is likely to increase infections.

He told the Evening Standard: ‘Before we get to that stage [of a full lockdown] there are many other things that you can do in order to help to reduce the risk of transmission and contain your outbreak.

‘In some areas which have seen resurgence there have been limits placed on the amount of time you can spend socialising. In some it might be local curfews so you’re not out drinking until the wee hours of the morning.

‘By limiting that you also limit the amount of time people are spending in close contact with others.’

His comments come as a survey found more than half of workers have said they never expect to return to a five-day working week in the office.

A new report called ‘Lockdown Lessons’ also found that 58% of people in employment said they felt more productive as a result of working from home.

Bosses also agreed, with 30% of business leaders saying the changes had seen a boost in productivity and 35% said the moves had seen more collaboration.

Tristia Harrison, chief executive at TalkTalk, who compiled the research, said: ‘Lockdown Britain has seen a boost in skills and productivity for home workers, with unexpected lessons for how we emerge from the pandemic.

‘As people have been working from home, they’ve also been learning: from new languages, to cooking, to IT skills. With flexible working we’re becoming so much more productive it seems that Britain is now getting five days’ work done in four, which is encouraging as we build back from the crisis.’

Catherine Barnard, from consultancy Working The Future, which analysed the data for TalkTalk, said: ‘A future where a four-day work week is the norm could be a lot closer than people think.

‘If someone can do their work in four days rather than five as a result of flexible working hours, it stands to reason that they can use the fifth day to further improve skills that complement their role. The challenge is to pivot from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to employment.’ 

Mr Johnson made a spirited defence on the new ‘rule of six’ which bans on groups of more than six people from meeting to help prevent the spread of the pandemic.

He said:  ‘I know that a lot of people feel that it’s excessive and heavy-handed . . . but unfortunately the disease has not gone away.

‘There are places in Europe which I will not name, such is my reputation for diplomacy, where we’ve come down one hump of the camel and we are approaching the next.’ 

Mr Johnson he was keen not to implement another full nationwide lockdown that ‘stops business from functioning.’  

The PM was also at pains to tell Britons that he doesn’t want to impose further restrictions.

He added: ‘We don’t want to go there. We want this package to work.

‘We are urging people to be cautious. We want people to be disciplined to get the R down.’ 

Pictured: A demonstration was held in solidarity for Iranian/Kurds however police officers were helpless in stopping the new government rules on groups of no more than six people meeting at one time

Pictured: A demonstration was held in solidarity for Iranian/Kurds however police officers were helpless in stopping the new government rules on groups of no more than six people meeting at one time

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, right, and Chief Whip Mark Spencer give each other an elbow bump greeting in Downing Street in London

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, right, and Chief Whip Mark Spencer give each other an elbow bump greeting in Downing Street in London

The Red Lion pub in Westminster, just yards from the Houses of Parliament, was surrounded by drinkers last night despite the introduction of the Rule of Six on Monday.

The Red Lion pub in Westminster, just yards from the Houses of Parliament, was surrounded by drinkers last night despite the introduction of the Rule of Six on Monday.

The ‘Rule of Six’ imposed by Boris Johnson on Monday makes it illegal to have larger gatherings, although in Scotland and Wales children under 12 do not need to be counted in the numbers. 

Ministers have suggested they are following the example of Belgium, where a surge appears to have been tackled using tight limits on gatherings and curfews. 

A senior member of the government told ITV’s Robert Peston that there was ‘no possibility of us waiting for the death rate to rise before we act’.

They added that the government will reassess whether the Rule of Six has been enough to control the situation in fortnight – but there is a widespread view that schools should not be shut again.

A leading scientific advisor reportedly said: ‘I think that if we want to keep schools open, we probably have to give serious consideration to a wide range of other measures to stop a major second wave.

‘And we have to think about doing that right now – which we are starting to do.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was forced to miss Prime Minister’s Questions because of a delay in receiving a coronavirus test result for one of his children, his deputy said.

Angela Rayner, standing in for Sir Keir at the despatch box on Wednesday lunchtime, told Boris Johnson that she had a message from ‘a man called Keir’.

She told the Commons: ‘Keir wasn’t able to go to work today and his children couldn’t go to school because his family had to wait for their coronavirus test results despite the Prime Minister’s promise of results within 24 hours.

‘Keir was able to do the right thing and self-isolate and work from home, but other people aren’t in this position – many of them are the very people getting us through this crisis.’

Mr Johnson said he understood a negative test had been returned for Sir Keir’s child, adding: ‘I don’t know why he is not here.’

The Labour leader was advised to self-isolate on Monday while awaiting the result of a test for a member of his household who showed possible symptoms of Covid-19.

Less than half an hour before PMQs was due to begin, Sir Keir said he was ‘very pleased and relieved that the test result for one of my children came back negative this morning’A decision had been made on Tuesday for his deputy, Ms Rayner, to take his place at the question session. 

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