Coronavirus: UK may need ‘stringent’ new measures, government adviser warns, as cases soar

Samuel Lovett
·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The UK’s “light-touch” coronavirus restrictions are only “delaying the inevitable”, a government scientific advisor has warned, as the number of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19 continue to rise.

Nearly 15,000 new cases were recorded on Tuesday, the latest figures show, while the number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 jumped by nearly a quarter in England.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in England and Wales has also risen for the third week in a row, according to the Office for National Statistics, with the government announcing that a further 76 people died from the disease over the latest 24-hour period.

As cases surge, with the northwest recording the highest infection rates across all four nations of the UK, the prospect of tougher lockdown measures are slowly coming into vision.

The government’s scientific advisers are now calling for further “drastic” action, while Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, has warned that bar and restaurant closures could be needed to keep the spread of the virus under control.

Professor John Edmunds, who advises the government’s coronavirus response as part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said it was a matter of time before new “stringent measures” were enforced.

“We are starting to get to a point where we really will have to take really critical action otherwise we are going to run the risk of turning the National Health Service back into the national Covid service,” he told BBC’s Newsnight.

“These local restrictions that have been put in place in much of the north of England really haven’t been very effective. We need to take much more stringent measures, not just in the north of England, we need to do it countrywide, and bring the epidemic back under control.”

He said the government’s current “light-touch” measures are just “delaying the inevitable”.

“We will at some point put very stringent measures in place because we will have to when hospitals start to really fill up,” he said. “Frankly, the better strategy is to put them in place now.”

A total of 14,542 new lab-confirmed cases were reported on Tuesday – double that of the figure recorded 11 days ago.

The UK-wide seven-day rate now stands at 125.7 cases per 100,000 people, up from 63.8 per 100,000 a week ago.

Manchester’s rate has notably soared, with 3,105 new cases recorded in the seven days to 3 October – the equivalent of 561.6 cases per 100,000 people.

In an attempt to tackle the city’s growing outbreaks, both Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and the University of Manchester have announced that teaching will be moved online until “at least” the end of the month.

Health officials are also expecting Nottingham to be placed in lockdown after a surge in Covid-19 cases.

The city’s infection rate has risen dramatically, with 1,465 new cases recorded up to 3 October – the equivalent of 440.1 cases per 100,000 people.

The director of public health for Nottingham, Alison Challenger, said current restrictions in the city “are no longer enough to stop the spread of the virus”.

Despite the escalating situation, Boris Johnson has promised a “bright future” for the UK when it emerges from the pandemic, as he defended the “erosions of liberty” needed to curb the spread of the disease.

The prime minister said there was “simply no reasonable alternative” to the restrictions and state interventions aimed at tackling Covid-19.

But as the country recovers, Mr Johnson promised sweeping social and economic changes similar to the “New Jerusalem” built in Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War.

He told the Conservative Party conference – being held online due to social distancing requirements – that “after all we have been through it isn't enough just to go back to normal” as “we have lost too much, we have mourned too many”.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon is set to announce new national restrictions today, which will come into effect from Friday.

The first minister said the new measures will not include travel restrictions on the whole country – though such restrictions may sometimes be necessary in “hotspot” areas – and the public will not be asked to stay in their own homes.

Speaking at the daily briefing on Tuesday, she said schools will not be closed “wholly or even partially”, and the Scottish Government will not “shut down the entire economy” or "halt the remobilisation of the NHS”.

“We are not proposing another lockdown at this stage,” Ms Sturgeon said. “Not even on a temporary basis.”

Meanwhile, the government won a vote on retaining the “rule of six” in England by 287 votes to 17.

Among the MPs who voted against it were 12 rebel Tories, one of whom called it a “massive intrusion” into people's lives that does not “make sense”.

The prime minister's spokesman earlier described it as a “sensible and helpful” measure.