Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: REUTERS/MOLLY DARLINGTON
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: REUTERS/MOLLY DARLINGTON

London — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will convene crisis talks on tackling the resurgent coronavirus on Tuesday after his top scientific adviser warned the UK is on course for 50,000 new cases a day by mid-October without urgent action.

The prime minister will lead a meeting of the government’s so-called Cobra emergency committee, which the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also attend. He’ll then make a statement to the House of Commons to lay out the next steps in his government’s pandemic response, which are expected to include tougher rules on social distancing.

Government statistics released on Monday showed that 1,261 people in the UK are now in hospital with Covid-19, up from 782 a week earlier. About 154 of these are on ventilators, up from 88. The chief medical officers for the four UK nations recommended the coronavirus alert status should rise by one rank to level 4, meaning cases are “now rising rapidly and probably exponentially.”

Ministers are trying to strike a balance between controlling the pandemic and avoiding a full lockdown that risks snuffing out the recovery after the economy plunged into its deepest recession for more than 100 years. Chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance warned on Monday the current infection rate, at which the number of cases is doubling every week, could lead to more than 200 deaths a day in mid-November if new measures are not put in place.

“Cases are increasing, hospitalisations are after,” Vallance said in a broadcast statement. “Deaths unfortunately will follow that, and there’s the potential for this to move very fast.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed to parliament on Monday that people who fail to self-isolate despite testing positive will face fines of as much as £10,000 and the government will carry out “regular checks”. Those on low incomes would be entitled to a new “isolation support payment” of £500 pounds to help them stay at home, Hancock said.

Under fire

The health secretary came under fire from some of his own Conservative colleagues over the affect of a potential second lockdown and the need for more Parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s strategy.

Chris Grayling, a former cabinet minister, said he didn’t see the case for a new national lockdown and warned of the effects on young people who are “paying a very heavy price”.

Pauline Latham, another Conservative, asked Hancock to “explain to the prime minister that we actually live in a democracy not a dictatorship and we would like a debate.” Hancock said there “absolutely” will be a debate on the measures the government will introduce, adding ministers do still need to move “very fast”.

Earlier, Hancock indicated that social activities would be the target of the new restrictions. Pressed on whether pubs will have to close, Hancock told ITV: “It’s not a no, and it’s not a yes.”

Hancock said grandparents will now be allowed to look after children under the age of 14 in local lockdown areas, enabling their parents to go to work, after complaints they were banned from doing so under rules banning households from mixing.

He also set out the criteria for rationing coronavirus tests, to help overstretched laboratories cope with the surge in demand. People with acute clinical needs will be top priority, followed by care homes, NHS staff, teachers with symptoms, people in outbreak areas, and then the public.


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