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Scientists have warned the UK government must act fast to contain the spread of the virus, including further restrictions on public mixing, though ministers have denied they are considering a full national lockdown.
Prof Susan Michie, the director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behavioural Science, a government advisory group, said that with cases doubling every eight days, urgent action was needed.
“If more restrictions aren’t done very soon then I think we risk being back into the situation where a national lockdown may be necessary,” she said. “Business as usual isn’t an option.”
Health minister Edward Argar denied the government was considering a rumoured two-week national lockdown, after a London-based former World Health Organization expert said the coronavirus infection rate could be nearing 38,000 a day.
Argar said there was “speculation in the press” that a new lockdown would be necessary to contain a rapid rise in infections, but that the prime minister did not want such tough measures to be reimposed nationally.
The government has said the Covid-19 alert level remains at level three. “We will always keep the transmission rate under review,” Johnson’s spokesman said.
“The PM has said we will look at restricting opening hours initially on a local level, Bolton for example … we will keep restrictions under review. We don’t want to bring in new measures which is why we introduced the rule of six and are urging people to abide by it.”
Michie said a national lockdown should be avoided at present but that other measures should be encouraged, such as closing pubs and restaurants, working from home and reducing the use of public transport, which she said “should never have been changed.”
“We are in a total crisis. If we’d had a functioning test, trace and isolate system, yes maybe we could have gotten away with a curfew [for pubs and other venues], but without the testing we don’t know where the outbreaks are happening, we can’t manage them – it is like a fire and we have lost our fire engines and out hoses.”
The “rule of six”, she added, should continue, but masks should be worn in all confined settings. With universities bringing together young people from all over the country and beyond, such teaching should move online, she added, while there also needs to be improved checks, screening and other measures for those entering the UK.
“I would say take all those things and review it: if in two weeks time [cases] are still exponentially rising then I think one would have to then look at a full national lockdown,” said Michie. “But I think we should have a first effort to avoid it.”
On Wednesday night, the director of University College London’s Institute for Global Health, Prof Anthony Costello, tweeted: “I’m hearing from a well-connected person that government now thinks, in the absence of testing, there are 38,000 infections per day.”
Argar told Sky News that proposals for a national lockdown was “not something I’ve seen within the department. The prime minister has been very clear on this: he doesn’t want to see another national lockdown, he wants to see people abiding by the regulations and making the local lockdowns work to get the infection rate down.”
He said the proposal for wider measures was “not something I’ve heard from Chris, and it’s something that the prime minister clearly doesn’t want to see”.
Asked whether a national curfew could soon be needed, Argar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think we’re at a place where we would wish to see or need to see national-level restrictions.
“But that comes down as well to all of us following the rules, be they local lockdown guidelines or indeed the national law and guidance.”
Officials in London dealing with the virus fear tougher measures could soon be needed as infection rates continue to rise, with the city’s mayor warning the country was on the edge of “a disastrous second wave”.
While the detected infection rates are much lower in the capital than, for instance, in Bolton and parts of the north-west, they have been rising. Lack of tests may mean the recorded rate of infections in London is artificially low, and plans are in place for tougher measures, the Guardian understands.
A spokesperson for the mayor, Sadiq Khan, said: “We are clearly on the precipice of a disastrous second wave. The government has wasted time over the summer to put proper plans and systems in place, which has unfortunately made the need for further restrictions over the coming weeks to control the virus more likely – either nationally or locally.
“There are a wide range of options available should they be needed, and decisions will need to be driven based on the science and data at the time.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Tighten UK Covid restrictions or risk a national lockdown, warn scientists | World news