Is the UK going into a second lockdown?

Experts warn of 50,000 new daily cases by mid-October if urgent action not taken

Chiara Giordano
Monday 21 September 2020 19:37 BST
Coronavirus deaths will rise to hundreds a day if second wave continues, Vallance warns
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The UK could face new lockdown measures as experts warn of 50,000 new coronavirus cases a day by mid-October, leading to 200 daily deaths if action is not taken to halt the current rate of infection.  

On Thursday the country’s Covid-19 alert level was increased from level 3 to level 4, meaning transmission of the virus is "high or rising exponentially". Health secretary Matt Hancock said this reflected “the significant shift in the current threat posed by coronavirus and warned the UK ”now faces a tipping point in its response".

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, told a televised Downing Street briefing the epidemic was “doubling roughly every seven days” and that there was "no doubt" numbers were increasing among all age groups.  

Appearing alongside England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, Sir Patrick warned of a “very serious” threat from Covid-19 over the next six months.  

And Prof Whitty said there was a need to "break unnecessary links" between households and to "change course".  

The experts were not joined by prime minister Boris Johnson, who is going to address the Commons on Tuesday after spending the weekend with senior ministers and advisers discussing the next steps in tackling the pandemic. 

‘Circuit-breaker’ lockdown  

It is thought the prime minister could be considering a “circuit-breaker” lockdown which would see shorter periods of tighter rules and restrictions sporadically and nationwide over the next six months to allow “breathing space”.  

It comes as the government’s new “rule of six”, which bans more than six people from gathering indoors or outdoors in England, has had limited impact on rising cases.  

Mr Johnson on Friday said he did not want to implement a second national lockdown but that “you've got to wonder whether we need to go further than the ‘rule of six’”.  

The prime minister said ministers would be considering “intensifying” local lockdowns already in place in areas from Greater Manchester to Birmingham, Leicester and the North East, but also “looking at other measures as well”.  

London mayor Sadiq Khan was expected to meet with council leaders on Monday before deciding whether new coronavirus restrictions are needed in the capital, such as curbs on movement and asking people to work from home again.  

What restrictions could we see?  

Prof Whitty hinted at curbs to social lives being needed, saying there was a need to "break unnecessary links" between households and a need to "change course".  

He said there were four things to do – washing hands and using masks, quarantine measures, and investing in vaccines and drugs.  

"The third one, and in many ways the most difficult, is that we have to break unnecessary links between households because that is the way in which this virus is transmitted," he said.  

"And this means reducing social contacts whether they are at work … and also in social environments.”  

Matt Hancock also suggested new restrictions would focus on social settings rather than schools or the workplace.  

The health secretary was unable to say whether England’s pubs would be allowed to open this weekend, telling ITV his answer was "not a no, and it's not a yes".  

He said final decisions were still being made, but added: "I think the main thing in terms of what we learnt is that where people catch the disease tends to be in social settings, people coming around to your house, or you going out and socialising essentially.  

"We've seen relatively few cases caught through schools and relatively few through people at work."  

Transport secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC the country was at a "tipping point" in the pandemic and further coronavirus measures might be needed.  

He denied there had been a row in the cabinet over what restrictions should be imposed and said the government was trying to protect both lives and livelihoods.  

What has the opposition said?  

Labour has urged the government to avoid imposing a second national lockdown.  

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth blamed the rapid spike in infections on “the government's incompetence and failure to put in place an adequate testing system”.  

He said: “Labour's priority is that there must be a national effort to prevent another national lockdown.  "The government must do what it takes to prevent another lockdown, which would cause unimaginable damage to our economy and people's wellbeing.

Additional reporting by PA  

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