UK 'on edge of losing control' of coronavirus, scientist warns

Public warned against ‘party weekends’ ahead of new restrictions coming into force

Saturday, 12th September 2020, 11:06 am
Updated Saturday, 12th September 2020, 2:13 pm

People have been warned against having a "party weekend" as a former chief scientific adviser said the UK is "on the edge of losing control" of coronavirus.

The public has been urged to act "in tune" with Covid-19 guidelines before the "rule of six" restrictions come into force across the UK on Monday.

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The call came as former chief scientific adviser and member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) Sir Mark Walport said the only way to stop the virus spreading is to reduce the number of people we all come into contact with, adding that there is an "extremely strong argument" that home working should continue.

New 'rule of six' restrictions come into force across the UK from Monday.

Tough new Covid-19 lockdown measures were announced for parts of the UK on Friday as cases continued to rise and as the R number - the reproduction number of coronavirus transmission - climbed above one.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Thursday also introduced a new limit of six people from two households permitted to gather together. The ruling will apply to indoors and outdoors locations. Children under the age of 12 will be exempt from the rules in Scotland and Wales.

Children will not be exempt in England, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has said.

New measures banning people from mixing in homes and gardens will be imposed on Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell from Tuesday in response to a rocketing infection rate in the area.

Ahead of the "rule of six" coming into play, the chairman of the body representing rank and file police officers raised concerns about behaviour over the weekend.

John Apter, of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: "There is a real risk some members of the public will take advantage of the current situation and treat this weekend as a party weekend ahead of the tighter restrictions being introduced on Monday."

Police in Manchester - where a local lockdown has been in force since July 30 - said they broke up a house party of 30 people in the early hours of Saturday.

When asked whether the UK was still in control of the spread of the virus, Sir Mark Walport said: "I think one would have to say that we're on the edge of losing control."

He told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "You've only got to look across the Channel to see what's happening in France, what's happening in Spain.

"The French on Thursday had 9,800 new infections and one can see their hospital admissions and indeed their intensive care admissions are going up."

He added: "The short answer is the only way to stop the spread of this infection is to reduce the number of people we all come into contact with, that lowers the risk.

"It's a very very fine balancing act, it's very important to get youngsters back to school, people to university, but it means we're going to have to hold back our contacts in other areas."

The professor said he was "definitely" still working from home, and told the programme: "Where people can work from home there's an extremely strong argument that they should do so."

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove urged people to act "in tune with" the rules this weekend, telling BBC Breakfast: "If people do behave in a way that is not really in line or in tune with the guidelines that have been put out, then they are putting other people at risk.

"The reason why the country's police chiefs have said that they hope people behave with appropriate restraint this weekend is we do not want to see a further acceleration of the spread of the virus."

He denied that the Government was losing control of Covid-19.

"No. I don't accept that," he said.

Mr Gove said Sir Mark's warning is a "warning to us all", telling the Today Programme: "I think Sir Mark's words - he's a very distinguished scientist - is a warning to us all.

"There's a range of scientific opinion but one thing on which practically every scientist is agreed is that we have seen an uptick in infection and therefore it is appropriate we take public health measures."

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is considering plans to fine people who breach self-isolation rules.

And asked whether the Government should consider a carrot and stick approach with better financial support for those self-isolating as well as fines for breaches, Mr Gove told the Today programme: "I think it is a very fair point."

Elsewhere, Health Secretary Matt Hancock appeared in a video on TikTok which was posted on the TikTok_uk account.

In the video, he says that "no matter what your age it's incredibly important that you follow the rules" to keep the virus under control.

Coronavirus cases in the UK have risen to the highest level since mid-May, with a total of 3,539 new cases recorded on Friday.

It is the highest daily figure since May 17, and Public Health England's medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle warned it is a reminder of the "ongoing risk as the virus spreads throughout the UK".

The figure rose sharply from 2,919 the previous day and most cases are people who have been tested in the community.

Data released by the Government Office for Science and Sage showed the estimate for the R value across the UK is between 1.0 and 1.2.

According to Government advisers, the last time R was above one was in early March.

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