As a second wave of COVID-19 infections sweeps across Europe, the UK has been issued a daunting warning by one of its top health officials as the government scrambles to deal with a surging number of cases.
The coronavirus epidemic is doubling roughly every seven days in the UK and if it continues to do so there would be about 50,000 new cases per day by the middle of October, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said on Monday (local time).
“At the moment we think the epidemic is doubling roughly every seven days,” he said during a televised briefing.
“If that continues unabated ... by mid-October you would end up with something like 50,000 cases per day,” he said, adding that such a scenario would lead to more than 200 deaths per day.
Cases across the UK continue to surge. On Monday (local time), a further 4,368 daily cases were reported, up from 3,899 the previous day.
The UK routinely recorded daily totals above 4,000 during the peak of its first wave.
Sir Vallance stressed action is needed now to curtail the spread of the virus after a summer period that saw holidaymakers take advantage of the warm conditions as travel abroad was opened up.
“The challenge, therefore, is to make sure the doubling time does not stay at seven days,” he said.
"That requires speed, it requires action and it requires enough in order to be able to bring that down."
An emergency meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected Tuesday morning (local time) with a press conference to follow.
It is understood a 10pm pub curfew is being considered, alongside a ban on households mixing and tougher penalties for those flouting restrictions, the Manchester Evening News reported.
You’ll probably see this chart a lot today. It’s the one @uksciencechief just showed at the @10DowningStreet briefing today. It’s v v scary & implies if the current growth rate of #COVID19 continues we'll face 49k cases a day by mid October. So. Is this really plausible...? pic.twitter.com/xCUDmGR95a— Ed Conway (@EdConwaySky) September 21, 2020
Fines for breaching virus restrictions are just a fraction of what they are in Australian states and territories. In England fines currently stand at £100 ($177) which is lowered to £50 ($89) if paid within two weeks. In Wales, a £60 fine drops to just £30 ($53) if paid within two weeks. Although fines increase for repeat offenders.
A six-person gathering rule was introduced last week for England, while other parts of the country where the virus rates are particularly high, Greater Manchester for example, are subject to stricter restrictions.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said further restrictions were likely and said she would not wait for the UK’s three other countries in enforcing stricter new measures.
Governments will now face a difficult decision of whether to be proactive or reactive. There is the choice of sending parts of the UK into lockdown now in the wake of the dire warning or wait to see if the exponential growth is avoided with current measures.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there was differing opinions in government over what the next step should be, with some desperate to avoid further damage to the economy.
"A conversation, a debate, is quite proper and that is exactly what you'd expect,” he told BBC Breakfast.
"Everyone recognises there is a tension between... the virus and the measures we need to take, and the economy and ensuring people's livelihoods are protected."
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