Tighter restrictions introduced in Bolton to curb coronavirus | World news

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A series of tougher measures have been imposed in Bolton to stem a surge in Covid-19 cases, including restaurants and pubs being restricted to takeaways, and venues being forced to close from 10pm to 5am.

Current guidance that people cannot socialise outside of their households in Bolton will also be made law, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced in a statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday.

There are an average of 120 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 of the population in Bolton, meaning it has the highest rate in the country. The rise in Bolton is “partly due to socialising by people in their 20s and 30s”, Hancock said, explaining that contact tracers had identified a number of pubs where the virus had spread.

Unveiling the measures which will be imposed immediately, Hancock told the Commons: “We will restrict all hospitality to takeaway only, and will introduce a late night restriction of operating hours which will mean all venues will be required to close from 10pm to 5am.

“We’ll introduce urgently further measures that put the current guidance that people cannot socialise outside their household into law.”

It comes after Bolton council said on Saturday it was introducing tougher measures “with immediate effect”, asking people not to mix with other households in any setting, either indoors or outdoors, and to only use public transport for essential purposes.

Meanwhile, Hancock stressed that the government is working “flat out” to expand testing capacity nationwide, amid concerns that the regime is unravelling under the pressure of demand with some people asked to travel long distances to get checked for Covid.

Earlier on Tuesday, a senior official at NHS test and trace issued a “heartfelt” apology to people who could not get tests. Director of testing, Sarah-Jane Marsh, tweeted: “All of our testing sites have capacity, which is why they don’t look overcrowded, its [sic] our laboratory processing that is the critical pinch-point. We are doing all we can to expand quickly.”

It comes after the UK on Monday recorded 2,948 daily confirmed cases of Covid-19, the second biggest 24-hour rise since May. It followed nearly 3,000 cases being recorded on Sunday.

The figures prompted England’s deputy chief medical officer, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, to warn on Monday that people had “relaxed too much” over the summer and that the rise in cases was of great concern.

Downing Street has come under fire over concerns it has lost control over the epidemic in the UK. There are concerns that testing centres are struggling to cope with demand, with some people asked to travel hundreds of miles to be tested. Hancock has since said that people will be offered tests within 75 miles but conceded it is “still quite a hike”.

Speaking earlier on Tuesday to the health and social care committee, Hancock suggested it would take the government “a couple of weeks” to resolve the problem of people being unable to access tests.

Asked about Marsh’s tweet apologising for people unable to get tests, Hancock told the committee: “We are working incredibly hard.

“We are doing everything we can. We have had these operational issues that I have talked about, we have had a problem with a couple of contracts and we discussed some of that in the House of Commons. “But it’s a matter of a couple of weeks until we can get all of that sorted in the short term.”

In recent days the UK has seen a sudden sharp increase in Covid-19 infection numbers, leading to fears that a second wave of cases is beginning.

Epidemics of infectious diseases behave in different ways but the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people is regarded as a key example of a pandemic that occurred in multiple waves, with the latter more severe than the first. It has been replicated – albeit more mildly – in subsequent flu pandemics. Until now that had been what was expected from Covid-19.

How and why multiple-wave outbreaks occur, and how subsequent waves of infection can be prevented, has become a staple of epidemiological modelling studies and pandemic preparation, which have looked at everything from social behaviour and health policy to vaccination and the buildup of community immunity, also known as herd immunity.

Is there evidence of coronavirus coming back in a second wave?

This is being watched very carefully. Without a vaccine, and with no widespread immunity to the new disease, one alarm is being sounded by the experience of Singapore, which has seen a sudden resurgence in infections despite being lauded for its early handling of the outbreak.

Although Singapore instituted a strong contact tracing system for its general population, the disease re-emerged in cramped dormitory accommodation used by thousands of foreign workers with inadequate hygiene facilities and shared canteens.

Singapore’s experience, although very specific, has demonstrated the ability of the disease to come back strongly in places where people are in close proximity and its ability to exploit any weakness in public health regimes set up to counter it.

In June 2020, Beijing suffered from a new cluster of coronavirus cases which caused authorities to re-implement restrictions that China had previously been able to lift. In the UK, the city of Leicester was unable to come out of lockdown because of the development of a new spike of coronavirus cases. Clusters also emerged in Melbourne, requiring a re-imposition of lockdown conditions.

What are experts worried about?

Conventional wisdom among scientists suggests second waves of resistant infections occur after the capacity for treatment and isolation becomes exhausted. In this case the concern is that the social and political consensus supporting lockdowns is being overtaken by public frustration and the urgent need to reopen economies.

However Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, says “‘Second wave’ isn’t a term that we would use at the current time, as the virus hasn’t gone away, it’s in our population, it has spread to 188 countries so far, and what we are seeing now is essentially localised spikes or a localised return of a large number of cases.” 

The overall threat declines when susceptibility of the population to the disease falls below a certain threshold or when widespread vaccination becomes available.

In general terms the ratio of susceptible and immune individuals in a population at the end of one wave determines the potential magnitude of a subsequent wave. The worry is that with a vaccine still many months away, and the real rate of infection only being guessed at, populations worldwide remain highly vulnerable to both resurgence and subsequent waves.

Peter Beaumont, Emma Graham-Harrison and Martin Belam

Boris Johnson’s spokesman denied that the government had failed to ensure enough tests could be processed. “We are working hard to increase laboratory capacity, and that’s why we announced last week work to begin on the building of a new lab to process tens of thousands more tests a day by the end of the year,” he said.

“We built a huge diagnostic laboratory testing network almost from scratch in recent months, and we are continuing to build that capacity.”

On Tuesday morning, the weekly cabinet meeting was briefed by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, and Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific officer, with Johnson reiterating warning of “complacency” over the virus among young people.

“The prime minister cautioned that in other countries which had seen an increase in infections this was followed a number of weeks later by a rise in hospitalisations,” his spokesman said. “The PM said that what had taken place elsewhere was that young people had gone on to infect older generations, who had become seriously ill, and it was vital to ensure that did not happen here.”

Labour’s shadow health minister, Justin Madders, said: “It beggars belief that six months into this pandemic the government are only now realising that the testing system is not set up to meet demand.

“It is now clear what a major strategic error it was for the government to decide to set up a brand new laboratory infrastructure from scratch and once again we are playing catch up. Ministers urgently need to get a grip on this ahead of the winter.”

Source: The Guardian
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