Tougher measures to stop a second wave of Covid-19 will be announced as soon as tomorrow, Matt Hancock signalled today as shock data showed the number of new cases a day could soon hit nearly 50,000 without urgent action.
The Health Secretary said the chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance were briefing the nation this morning so the public could see “why we are taking decisions that we have to take”.
Their alarming analysis showed that the number of coronavirus cases could spiral to 49,000 a day by October 13 if the number continues to double every seven days. Sir Patrick said that if cases reached 50,000 a day, then the number of coronavirus deaths could be more than 200 a day within a month.
In a sign of measures being considered, Mr Hancock did not rule out pubs having to close early in more parts of the country . He told of the “worry” of the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, that Britain is in danger of following Spain and France, where hospitalisations and deaths are rising.
Watch: Chief scientific adviser warns there could be 50,000 new daily coronavirus cases by mid-October
Professor Whitty also hinted at curbs to social lives being needed to prevent coronavirus spiralling out of control, saying: "We have to break unnecessary links between households because that is the way in which this virus is transmitted."
Before the briefing by Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick:
It emerged that London now has the third highest rate of admission to intensive care units and high-dependency units in the country, following a steep rise over the past week. The Evening Standard has learned that the capital’s admission rate per 100,000 is above that of the North East, where tighter restrictions have already been imposed, including a ban on households socialising.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he is “seriously concerned” about the spread of Covid-19 in the capital . He is tonight meeting borough leaders and health experts to discuss a range of special measures , likely to include curbs on nights out and socialising.
The Health Secretary revealed a mass rollout of a coronavirus vaccine was currently hoped for in “the first bit of next year if all goes well”.
Boris Johnson was accused of “ruling by decree” during the pandemic by the most senior Conservative backbencher this morning. Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, stepped up calls for Parliament to decide on measures.
Appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Mr Hancock was asked whether pubs would be open this weekend and responded: “We will be absolutely clear about changes that we need to make in the very, very near future.”
Pressed on whether that was a “no”, he added: “It’s not a no and it’s not a yes. We have been working on this all weekend. We have not taken the final decisions about what we need to do in response to the surge that we have seen.”
He made clear that a statement from Mr Johnson could be expected tomorrow. “I spoke to the Prime Minister this morning and he is as worried as we all are about the rise in the number of cases and we have to make a final decision about what’s the best response to that,” he said.
“We have all seen the evidence from the scientists and the reason the scientists and the chief medical officer are going on air at 11am today is so that the whole country will see the same information that we are seeing to make the judgments that we are making.
“We want to do this in an open a way as possible so that everybody can see why we are taking decisions that we have to take.”
Professor Whitty warned that the epidemic’s trend in the UK is “heading in the wrong direction and we are at a critical point in the pandemic”.
One alarming graph unveiled at the briefing showed daily cases surging from a current level of about 3,000 to 4,000 a day to 49,000 by October 13 if nothing is done to hold the virus back.
Another slide showed how France and Spain have suffered exactly such a rise in daily cases in recent weeks, with the result that daily fatalities have shot up after a delay.
The scientific data demolished hopes of there being herd immunity in the UK. Fewer than eight per cent of people tested had antibodies to suggest they would be resistant to the disease. Mr Hancock has also refused to rule out a second national lockdown in England, which could see curfews with the hospitality sector having to shut between 10pm and 5am and a ban on socialising in other people’s homes.
The latest data for hospital admissions from Public Health England and the Joint Biosecurity Centre, which have been seen by the Standard, show that in London in the past week, admissions to ICU and HDU went up from 0.05 per 100,000 of the population to almost 0.2. The highest rate was in the North West, at 0.25, followed by the Midlands, with London in third place.