Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance today warned the UK is ‘heading in the wrong direction’ in the coronavirus pandemic as Boris Johnson prepares to unveil his new lockdown plans.
The Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser delivered a stark warning to the nation this morning as they took part in an unprecedented televised address.
The Government’s two top scientists appeared in Downing Street on their own and without ministers as they painted a grim picture of what is to come if people do not follow the existing coronavirus restrictions.
Prof Whitty said: ‘The trend in UK is heading in the wrong direction and we are at a critical point in the pandemic. We are looking at the data to see how to manage the spread of the virus ahead of a very challenging winter period.’
The warning came ahead of an expected press conference from Mr Johnson as early as tomorrow when he will set out his latest blueprint for tackling the spread of the disease after a surge in cases.
Mr Johnson held talks with Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick yesterday and the address by the advisers will be seen as an attempt by Number 10 to ‘roll the pitch’ for the Prime Minister to announce new restrictions.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today insisted that new lockdown measures ‘will be different to last time’ but he refused to guarantee that pubs will still be allowed to open at the weekend as he said it is socialising which is driving the spike in cases.
Mr Johnson is facing major divisions within his own Cabinet about what to do next amid a tug of war between ministers over protecting the economy.
Mr Hancock and Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove are said to want the PM to take decisive action now while Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel are reportedly advocating a more cautious approach, according to The Times.
Any move to reimpose more stringent restrictions is likely to spark a Tory rebellion after Sir Graham Brady this morning accused Mr Johnson of ‘ruling by decree’ as he demanded MPs get a vote in the House of Commons on any new measures.
A senior Government figure said the ‘next six months are very difficult and there is an awful lot to consider’. Another source insisted the Cabinet row ‘isn’t combative’ and it is not ‘anti-lockdown versus pro-lockdown’.
Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty today delivered a televised addressed from Downing Street as they set out the scale of infection across the UK
Official Downing Street slides showed that if the current rate of infection continues there could be 50,000 coronavirus cases every day by the middle of October and that could lead to 200 plus deaths a day by the middle of November
The number of new Covid-19 being admitted to hospitals in England has been increasing significantly since the start of September
Boris Johnson, pictured running this morning, is widely expected to announce new coronavirus rules this week
Crowds of revellers enjoy a night out in Newcastle on Saturday despite fears of a second wave of coronavirus
Sage expert warns £10,000 coronavirus fines could prove counterproductive
Imposing fines of up to £10,000 on people who fail to self-isolate could be counterproductive and increase ‘resentment’, one of the Government’s scientific advisers has said.
Professor Susan Michie, who is a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said the new fining regime risks ‘alienating people’.
She said the fines could also undermine trust in NHS Test and Trace because they could deter people from getting tested or prompt them to try to conceal symptoms.
The new fining regime will come into force in England from September 28 with penalties starting at £1,000 and rising to up to £10,000.
There are growing fears that the fines will hit people on lower incomes the hardest because one of the main reasons for failing to comply with quarantine rules is a need to go to work.
The Government is bringing forward a system of payments worth £500 for people on low incomes who have to self-isolate but critics believe that will not be enough to persuade some to stay at home.
Prof Michie argued that better support for people in self-isolation is the way to increase compliance rather than the threat of massive fines.
She told The Telegraph: ‘It will set up resentment and divisions. If things are perceived not to be fair, then this undermines trust, in turn undermines adherence.
‘The fines could actually be counterproductive by alienating people.’
She said experts have long been urging ministers to boost support for people who have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.
‘None of these things have been done by the Government in the way we have advised over literally months,’ she added.
Is London ‘next for lockdown’? Ministers holding crunch meeting to decide whether to impose new rules on the capital
London is on the brink of lockdown, with millions of commuters set to be ordered to work from home.
Ministers will decide today whether to impose a lockdown on the capital, with Mayor Sadiq Khan pressing for ‘fast action’.
Mr Khan believes the city is just days behind the disease hotspots in the North West and North East of England and said a new lockdown is ‘increasingly likely’.
But London’s infection rate of 25 cases per 100,000 people is significantly lower than the national average of 34 and no areas of the capital are on Public Health England’s ‘watchlist’.
The crunch address by Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick came as:
- Sage expert Professor Susan Michie warned the Government’s plans to fine people up to £10,000 for failing to self-isolate could prove counter-productive and lead to ‘resentment’.
- Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the way ministers have imposed measures without votes in the Commons as he said the ‘need for speed’ was required to tackle the threat posed by the virus.
- Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said six months is a ‘more realistic’ time frame for any new Covid-19 restrictions to be in place.
- Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in health protection at the University of East Anglia, suggested a ‘circuit break’ new lockdown would only halt the Covid-19 surge temporarily.
Speaking to ITV’s This Morning programme, Mr Hancock said the UK is facing a ‘difficult moment’.
He said: ‘If we do have to take action it will be different to last time. We have learnt a huge amount about how to tackle the virus.
‘But the number one thing for everybody is if everybody follows the existing rules, the vast majority of people are, but if everybody does then that will help us to control it.’
Asked how lockdown measures will be different for the second wave, Mr Hancock said: ‘The main thing in terms of what we have learnt is where people catch the disease tends to be in social settings: People coming round to your house or you going socialising essentially.
‘We have seen relatively few cases caught through schools and relatively few through people at work.’
Mr Hancock refused to be drawn when he was asked whether pubs will still be open at the weekend.
He said: ‘We will be absolutely clear about the changes we need to make in the very, very near future.’
Pushed on the issue, he said: ‘It’s not a no and it is not a yes. We have been working on this all weekend, we haven’t taken the final decisions about what we need to do in response to the surge that we have seen in the last few weeks.’
Meanwhile, on whether the rule fo six could be eased at Christmas, Mr Hancock said: ‘I want Christmas to be as normal as possible and the more that we can control the virus now and stop the spread now the easier it is going to be to have a christmas that is as close to normal as possible.’
During today’s address, Professor Whitty will explain how the virus is spreading in the UK and the potential scenarios that could unfold as winter approaches.
They will draw on data from other countries such as Spain and France, which are experiencing a second surge, to underline how their experience could be replicated in the UK, with rising infections eventually leading to more deaths.
Professor Whitty is expected to say: ‘The trend in the UK is heading in the wrong direction and we are at a critical point in the pandemic.
‘We are looking at the data to see how to manage the spread of the virus ahead of a very challenging winter period.’
The warning comes as it was revealed that bars and restaurants that allow big groups to gather or fail to collect customers’ details will be served with orders forcing them to close immediately.
Local authorities and the police will be encouraged to perform spot checks to ensure venues are meeting the requirements.
Downing Street last night warned the country is ‘in the last chance saloon’ with the prospect of more restrictive national measures, such as curfews, being imposed within days if people do not start following the rules.
Possible measures include forcing bars and restaurants to shut at 10pm each night, as has already happened in places such as Bolton and Newcastle. There may also be a ban on socialising with people from other households.
The Government is preparing to launch a major offensive to enforce the rules that are currently in place in a bid to minimise the need for further restrictions.
Mr Hancock yesterday warned: ‘We will come down hard on people who do the wrong thing.’
Senior Government officials have become concerned at scenes of drinkers crammed into bars or standing on the street outside in large groups.
They also fear that many places are not collecting the details of customers needed by the NHS Test and Trace service to contact the necessary people if outbreaks are identified in a venue.
On Sunday, another 3,899 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were announced, while a further 18 people died within 28 days of testing positive, bringing the UK total to 41,777.
The latest figures came after the Government announced that anyone in England refusing to obey an order to self-isolate could face a fine of up to £10,000.
Following the rising figures, Mr Hancock refused to rule out a second national lockdown in England if people failed to follow the social distancing rules.
Mr Hancock said that with hospital admissions for the disease doubling ‘every eight days or so’, further action was needed to prevent more deaths.
‘This country faces a tipping point,’ he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
‘If everybody follows the rules – and we will be increasingly stringent on the people who are not following the rules – then we can avoid further national lockdowns.
‘But we of course have to be prepared to take action if that’s what’s necessary.’
Mr Johnson has been desperate to avoid another nationwide lockdown amid concerns about the economic damage it will inflict just as activity was beginning to pick up again.
However, as of Tuesday, about 13.5 million people across the UK will be facing some form of local restrictions as the authorities grapple with the disease.
Local authorities and the police will be encouraged to perform spot checks to ensure venues are meeting the requirements. Pictured: a group of girls walk through Birmingham City Centre last night
Sir Graham Brady accuses PM of ‘ruling by decree’ during coronavirus crisis
Sir Graham Brady today accused Boris Johnson of ‘ruling by decree’ during the coronavirus crisis as Tory MPs demanded any move to reimpose lockdown is put to a vote in the House of Commons.
The chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbench MPs suggested the Government has been treating people ‘as children’ during the pandemic.
He is tabling an amendment which would require the Government to put any new lockdown measures to a vote of MPs.
There is growing anger among Tory figures about the way in which the Government has imposed measures over the last six months without first consulting Parliament amid fears new rules will be rolled out in the coming weeks to tackle a surge in cases.
Sir Graham’s intervention came after the Supreme Court’s first female president said Parliament had ‘surrendered’ powers to the Government during the pandemic.
Baroness Brenda Hale, who served as president at the UK’s highest court from 2017- 2020, criticised the draconian measures and ‘sweeping’ powers being imposed on the British public without the say of MPs.
Sir Graham told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: ‘I think what we have also seen over the last six months is the Government has got into the habit of, in respect to the coronavirus issue, ruling by decree without usual debate and discussion and votes in Parliament that we would expect on any other matter.’
He added: ‘The British people aren’t used to being treated as children.’
A senior Government figure told The Times that while no final decision had been made by the Prime Minister, the Government was looking over the next six months.
They said: ‘It’s not as simple as saying Covid is up and it’s a simple binary choice [over lockdown]. It is a very, very complicated picture that we need to look at over the next six months and that is going to be the tough part.’
Mr Hancock said he was ‘very worried’ about the latest data which suggested Britain could be on the same path as Spain and France – where deaths and hospitalisations are increasing – without effective action.
‘I am very worried about this second wave. We have seen in other countries around Europe how it can absolutely shoot through the roof,’ he said.
‘When the case rate shoots up, the next thing that happens is the numbers going into hospital shoot up.
‘Sadly, we have seen that rise, it is doubling every eight days or so – people going into hospital, then, with a lag, you see the number of people dying sadly rise.’
Among the measures being considered by ministers is a temporary two-week ‘circuit break’, with tighter restrictions across England in an attempt to break the chain of transmission.
Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan is pressing ministers to extend controls to the capital, which he believes may be just ‘two or three days’ behind the hotspots of the North West and North East of England.
In an interview on LBC he said: ‘Unfortunately, and it gives me no pleasure to say this, we’ve all been catastrophically let down by the Government.
‘If ministers had risen to this moment, as the British public have, then the loss of many lives and much of the economic hardship could have been avoided.
‘These times called for a government that could put ideology, dogma and ego aside, and calmly and competently do whatever it takes to save lives and jobs.
‘Unfortunately, we got the exact opposite. Just when we required a steady, capable hand on the tiller, we’ve had a hapless government that keeps on steering us onto the rocks.’
Meanwhile Conservative MP Theresa Villiers said the most likely option for a national lockdown would be similar to the current restrictions in the north-east of England.
The former Cabinet Minister told Carolyn Quinn on BBC Radio 4 Westminster Hour: ‘If cases do continue to rise, I would have thought the most likely option that the Government would go for on a national level is the kind of restrictions that they’re undertaking in the north east, so unfortunately that means possibly a period when people are not allowed to socialise with others, inside or outdoors and further restrictions on the way hospitality works.
‘I really hope that we don’t have to come to that because obviously the hospitality sector has been hit so hard by this, but I think of all the measures we could take to stem the outbreak or the possible second wave, it seems that restrictions on social gatherings may be the most effective and also have less economic damage than a bigger lockdown affecting more businesses.’
The number of new daily coronavirus infections in the capital, as recorded by King’s College London
However, the Government is facing resistance from some senior Conservative MPs concerned that ministers are taking increasingly stringent powers with little or no parliamentary scrutiny.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 Committee, said he will table an amendment which would require the Government to put any new measures to a vote of MPs.
He indicated that he would take the opportunity to seek to amend the legislation when the Government comes to renew the emergency powers in the Coronavirus Act 2020.
Under the latest rules, from September 28 people in England will have a duty to self isolate for 14 days if they test positive for coronavirus, or they are instructed to do by NHS Test and Trace because they have been in contact with someone with the disease.
Fines for non-compliance will start at £1,000, rising to £10,000 for repeat offenders in the most ‘egregious’ cases.
People on benefits will be eligible for a one-off support payment of £500 if they face a loss of earnings as a result of being required to quarantine.
Sir Keir Starmer said Labour would support the measures but warned that a second national lockdown was becoming more likely because the Test and Trace programme was in a state of ‘near collapse’.
‘Because the Government’s now effectively lost control of testing, it doesn’t necessarily know where the virus is.
‘So if I was the prime minister, I would apologise for the fact that testing is all over the place,’ he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.
Since Friday, local authorities in England have had the power to issue fines of up to £4,000 on businesses that allow in groups of more than six people or fail to keep a record of those served.
But the Mail understands the Government is considering going further by giving councils the ability to take swift action by ordering immediate closure of premises.
Ministers are also looking at tightening the law so people are banned from ordering at the bar or counter. Retailers will be asked to encourage customers to comply with the requirement to wear a face covering in shops.
Mr Hancock (pictured) said that there was a danger the numbers could ‘shoot through the roof’ unless effective action was taken to halt the spread of the virus
A Cabinet minister said: ‘People have been registering in pubs as Donald Duck and providing made-up phone numbers, or not giving any contact details at all. So a crackdown is needed.’
From next week people will face fines of up to £10,000 if they refuse an order to self-isolate. Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick will present data on countries experiencing a second wave, such as France and Spain, and how this could be replicated here.
A Downing Street source said: ‘Infection rates are going up, we are in the grip of a second Covid wave and we’re now in the last chance saloon.’
They said Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick ‘will today set out the latest data and the stark reality we’re now facing’.
Mr Hancock said that there was a danger the numbers could ‘shoot through the roof’ unless effective action was taken to halt the spread of the virus.
Appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, he said ‘people have got more relaxed over the summer’ but ‘now is the moment when everybody needs to get back’ to following the rules.
Another 18 deaths were reported among people who had tested positive for coronavirus in the past 28 days. Last night there were 1,141 patients in England’s hospitals, up from 1,048 the day before and 661 a week ago.
Nearly a third of these patients are in the North West, while just 157 are in London.
Back in April, there were almost 5,000 coronavirus patients in London hospitals alone, and 20,000 across the UK.
Matt Hancock: I’d shop neighbour
Matt Hancock has told Britons to alert the police about neighbours who refuse to self-isolate – and said he would too.
The Health Secretary’s call came only days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he disliked ‘sneak culture’.
Mr Hancock declared he would report rule-breakers to the authorities himself in a move which could see them fined up to £10,000 under stringent new rules in England.
Matt Hancock (pictured) has told Britons to alert the police about neighbours who refuse to self-isolate – and said he would too
His comments came when he was asked on Times Radio if the public should tell on people refusing to self-isolate. ‘Yes, because the number asked to self-isolate as a proportion of the population as a whole is relatively small and it’s so important,’ said Mr Hancock.
‘These are people who have been in close contact with somebody who had a positive result or themselves have had a positive test.’
Mr Hancock was also asked by Andrew Marr on his BBC show if he would snitch on a neighbour to police himself.
The Health Secretary replied: ‘Yes. And for the self-isolation part, that is absolutely necessary because that is how we break the chains of transmission.’
Mr Marr suggested it was ‘confused messaging’ from the Government after Mr Johnson’s comments.
Mr Hancock replied: ‘We’re extremely clear that people must follow the rules and if they don’t then we are bringing in this more stringent enforcement.’
A ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown would be madness
Commentary By Dr Renee Hoenderkamp
Of all the muddled, panicky, flip-flop responses by the Government to the Covid-19 pandemic, the introduction of a so-called ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown this week would be the worst yet.
Shutting down the country for two weeks will turn a dangerous situation into a disaster.
It’s precisely the wrong thing to do, at exactly the wrong time.
Six months ago, when the coronavirus took hold in Britain, the Prime Minister imposed a draconian lockdown that forced people to stay indoors. I warned at the time that this policy would have a devastating long-term effect on general healthcare – especially mental health – and it saddens me deeply that I was proved right.
Six months ago, when the coronavirus took hold in Britain, the Prime Minister (pictured) imposed a draconian lockdown that forced people to stay indoors
What I did not foresee, back in March, was how Covid-19 would be channelled by the lockdown into the very places that sheltered Britain’s most vulnerable people: our care homes.
Segments of the population that were at minimal risk – the young and generally healthy – were the ones most protected against infection. The ones most at risk were left to bear the brunt and the results were unutterably horrific.
A lockdown that we were promised would not last more than a few weeks limped on for the whole summer. We didn’t really emerge until this month, when the schools reopened.
And what happened? Exactly what anyone could predict – the disease re-emerged too. Of course it did, because it had never gone away. It had been circulating at a low level, waiting to surge back among a population with no degree of immunity. Now we are experiencing levels of rising infection similar to what we saw in February, at the start of the crisis.
But here’s the awful difference: it’s now late September and winter is on its way. With winter come flu and pneumonia, and as every GP knows, they are killers.
Britain does not shut down for flu every year. In fact, we barely talk about it. Some people have vaccines, others don’t bother – in seven of the past ten years, the jab has proved less than 50 per cent effective. Pictured: A sign for a coronavirus testing station in Manchester
Already, they are taking hold. Two weeks ago, according to the Office for National Statistics, 991 deaths were attributed to flu and pneumonia, Covid-19 or both over a seven-day period.
Yet in the same period, the ONS data showed only 78 official deaths of patients who tested positive for Covid-19 within the past month (though this doesn’t mean the virus caused all the deaths).
These figures show that flu and pneumonia are currently roughly ten times as deadly… and according to the ONS, flu season hasn’t even started yet.
The peak months are regarded as October to May, hitting the worst patch after Christmas. Britain does not shut down for flu every year. In fact, we barely talk about it. Some people have vaccines, others don’t bother – in seven of the past ten years, the jab has proved less than 50 per cent effective.
Developing a reliable flu vaccine relies on predicting which particular strains of flu are most likely to appear the following winter so can be very off-target, yet this failure is almost never discussed in the media. It certainly is not the cause of national panic.
To be considering a country-wide lockdown to control Covid-19, when flu and pneumonia are currently so much more virulent, is sheer insanity. The dire effects on general and mental health which we suffered over the summer will simply be compounded.
Since there is little feasible chance of a safe and effective vaccine any time soon, we should have been striving for mass immunity among the healthy population. Pictured: A Coronavirus testing centre in Leicester
And in two weeks’ time, or whenever we disconnect the ‘circuit breaker’, the coronavirus will surge back. This time, we will be facing its effects during the flu season, when many more people will be compromised by flu and even less able to fight Covid-19.
The optimum time for dealing with this novel coronavirus has already passed. Since there is little feasible chance of a safe and effective vaccine any time soon, we should have been striving for mass immunity among the healthy population.
If the majority of people who are unlikely to suffer much ill effect could catch the infection, and get over it safely, they would be much less likely to transmit it to the vulnerable during the winter.
This strategy goes by the ugly name of herd immunity, an unfeeling name for the most compassionate policy.
I am certainly not belittling the severity of Covid-19. It is more contagious than common flu and it attacks the body in more varied ways. This is a scary disease. But we cannot fight it with fear.
We can’t wait for a vaccine, and we can’t hide from the virus. Trying to eradicate an endemic disease with a short ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown is unscientific nonsense (stock image)
We also cannot fight it at the moment with a vaccine. There isn’t one, and I must admit that I would be wary of any inoculation that hasn’t been thoroughly tested. I am ardently pro-vaccine, and I’ve made certain that my toddler got every jab going. But before they can be deemed safe, all drugs need to be properly evaluated, and that takes time.
We must not rush the job just because it’s politically expedient. And yet the Government appears to be doing just that.
The only safe, humane response is to shield the vulnerable and encourage the rest of the population to build up collective immunity.
We can’t wait for a vaccine, and we can’t hide from the virus. Trying to eradicate an endemic disease with a short ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown is unscientific nonsense.
Instead, we need to look after the people at most risk, by ringfencing their jobs and paying their bills while they self-isolate.
Nobody should have to fear losing their employment or defaulting on their mortgage. The cost of this, while significant, would be minimal compared with the expense of the furlough scheme.
And while they stay safe, the rest of us need to get back into the real world and learn to live with the virus. It’s here, and it’s not going away. Our best defence is collective immunity. Accept it, and let’s get on with our lives.
Dr Hoenderkamp is an NHS GP