Coronavirus outbreak in UK has reached critical point, says CMO

Coronavirus outbreak in UK has reached critical point, says CMO

UK chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Britain stands at a “critical point” in the coronavirus pandemic, Professor Chris Whitty will warn, as he lays the ground for tough new controls in an urgent attempt to halt the surge in infections.

In a televised briefing on Monday, the UK's chief medical officer for England will say the country faces a “very challenging winter”, with the current trend heading in “the wrong direction”.

Boris Johnson spent the weekend with senior ministers and advisers discussing what action to take as the rise in the number of new cases showed no sign of slowing.

It is thought UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson could announce new measures in a press conference as early as Tuesday.

Prof Whitty, who will appear alongside the British Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, 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.

Prof 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.”

It comes as influential Tory MP Graham Brady signalled that ministers could face backbench resistance if they try to introduce new lockdown measures without proper scrutiny in Parliament.

He said ministers had “got into the habit of ruling by decree”, adding: “The British people are not used to being treated like children.”

Mr Brady, the chairman of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 Committee, is tabling an amendment which would require the Government to put any new measures to a vote of MPs.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that more scrutiny of the so-called rule of six would have enabled MPs to question why the limit was put at six and not eight or 10 and why children were included in England and not in Wales or Scotland.

However, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps argued that increased deaths from coronavirus will follow in the UK as they have in Spain and other nations.

He told Sky News: “We’re certainly at a critical moment this morning. It is clear we’re just a few weeks behind what we’re seeing elsewhere in Europe.

“You only have to look at what’s happening in France, particularly in Spain, and you can see that things have taken off there, including, I’m afraid, deaths. So it is very important that we do everything we can to bear down on this.

“It’s absolutely vital that people do (follow restrictions) because otherwise we’re going to end up back in situations we don’t want to be in.”

Ministers are reported to be split on how far any new restrictions should go, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak said to be resisting controls which could further damage the economy.

During a series of broadcast interviews over the weekend, however, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to rule out a second national lockdown in England, if people fail to follow the social distancing rules.

He said he feared cases could go “shooting through the roof” with more hospitalisations and more deaths.

Meanwhile London mayor Sadiq Khan is to meet council leaders in the city on Monday to discuss possible new restrictions in the capital, which they would then put to ministers.

“The situation is clearly worsening,” a spokesman for the mayor said.

“The mayor wants fast action as we cannot risk a delay, as happened in March. It is better for both health and business to move too early than too late.”

Another 3,899 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were announced on Sunday, 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 British Government announced anyone in England refusing to obey an order to self-isolate could face a fine of up to £10,000 and just days after the “rule of six” – banning social gathering of more than six people – came into force.

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, including 10pm curfews for pubs and restaurants, as the authorities grapple with the disease.

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.

Labour party leader Keir Starmer said his party would support any new 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”.

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