Pedestrians, a few wearing protective face masks, walk along Oxford Street in London, the UK, September 17 2020. Picture: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS
Pedestrians, a few wearing protective face masks, walk along Oxford Street in London, the UK, September 17 2020. Picture: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS

London — UK health secretary Matt Hancock has warned that national restrictions could be reimposed unless the recent spike in coronavirus infections is brought under control. 

Speaking on Sky TV’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Hancock said the UK is facing a “tipping point” in the battle to limit the spread of the disease.

The government reported 4,422 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, the biggest daily increase since early May.

“The choice is either everybody follows the rules, or we will have to take more measures,” he said.

“I don’t want to see more restrictive measures, but if people don’t follow the rules that’s how the virus spreads.”

Hancock was speaking after the government confirmed that people in England who refuse to obey an order to self-isolate could be fined up to £10,000. A new legal duty requires people to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus or are traced as a close contact, starting on September 28.

“I’m very worried about this second wave,” Hancock said. “We’ve seen in Europe it can shoot through the roof. I can’t over-emphasise enough the importance of this message: we must follow rules on social distancing. That way we can avoid an incredibly difficult lockdown until the cavalry comes with a vaccine and mass testing is on the horizon.”

In an interview on BBC TV’s Andrew Marr Show, Hancock said the prospect of a vaccine by the end of 2020 or “more likely” in early 2021 was looking positive.

With infections on the rise, the UK test-and-trace system is under strain and millions of people across the country have been placed under local restrictions.

London mayor Sadiq Khan warned further restrictions will probably be needed “soon” in the British capital, where infection rates are the highest in the country after the northwest.

Officials in London were meeting on Sunday amid reports that fresh curbs could be imposed as early as Monday, with Londoners once again asked to work from home if possible.

Khan, who anticipates London is just days behind hot spots in the northeast of England and Manchester, is pressing for 10pm curfews on pubs and a ban on mixing of households, according to the Huffington Post.

There are also reports that ministers are considering a two-week national lockdown in October as a virus “circuit-breaker”. 

Hancock once again refused to rule out any option but insisted countrywide measures were a “last line of defence”.

Another lockdown would deliver a further blow to an economy that shrank more than any other major developed country during the pandemic.

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to fix the ailing test-and-trace programme, which officials regard as vital to keep infection rates down and to give people confidence to return to work.

“If I was the prime minister, I would be apologising for the fact that we are in this situation with testing,” Starmer told the Marr show. Starmer urged the government to reinstate its daily coronavirus media conferences.

Johnson’s office announced on Sunday that fines breaching self-isolation rules will start at £1,000, in line with the penalty for breaking quarantine after international travel, and could increase to as much as £10,000 for repeat offences and “egregious” cases.

Those on lower incomes who face a loss of earnings as a result of going into quarantine will be eligible for a one-off support payment of £500.

The number of fines issued for breaking coronavirus restrictions has been relatively low, totalling 18,683 in England and Wales between March 27 and August 17, according to the latest figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

During the final four weeks of that period, only 13 fines were issued in England and none in Wales.

Bloomberg

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