Britain is on the “edge of losing control” of the spread of the coronavirus, according to a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
Sir Mark Walport – a former chief scientific adviser – also insisted there was an “extremely strong argument” for people who can work from home to continue to doing so.
“I think one would have to say we’re on the edge of losing control and you’ve only got to look across the Channel to see what’s happening in France and what’s happening in Spain,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The French on Friday had 9,800 new infections and one can see their hospital admission and intensive care admissions are going up.”
The distinguished scientist also cited an alarming study from Imperial, commissioned by the government, suggesting Covid-19 cases are doubling every seven to eight days and warned the R rate of transmission could be as high as 1.7.
The analysis of ICL’s Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (React-1) came as the UK reported the highest daily number of new coronavirus cases since mid-May: 3,539, up from 2,919 the previous day.
Pressed on whether the public should be returning to work, Sir Mark, who said he “definitely” will continue to work from home, added: “The only way to stop the spread of this infection is to reduce the number of people we come into contact with.
“Therefore it’s a fine balancing act. It’s very important to get youngsters back to school and universities, but it means we’re going to have to hold back our contacts in other areas.
“Where people can work from home there’s an extremely strong argument they should do so.”
Speaking on Saturday, the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said: “I think Sir Mark’s words – he’s a very distinguished scientist – are a warning to us all.
“There’s a range of scientific opinion, but one thing practically every scientist is agreed is that we have seen an uptick in infection and therefore it’s appropriate to take public health measures.”
The cabinet minister said the “rule of six” – to be introduced on Monday in England, limiting social gatherings to a maximum of six people indoors and outdoors – was necessary due to concerns over the prevalence of the virus.
In a separate interview on Times Radio, Mr Gove also claimed the UK was not heading towards a second national lockdown, adding: “The reason why we’re taking the steps we announced this week and come into force on Monday is precisely to avoid that situation.
Rather, he said the new measures such as “target local lockdowns” and “new regulations governing social contact” were to ensure that children can still go to school, adults can still go to work and the “life of the nation can continue”.