UK faces ‘tipping point’ in battle to stop spread of virus


LONDON • UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that national restrictions could be reimposed unless the recent spike in coronavirus infections is brought under control.

Speaking on Sky TV’s “Sophy Ridge yesterday,” Hancock said the UK is facing a “tipping point” in the battle to limit the spread of the disease. A further 4,422 new Covid-19 cases were reported on Saturday, the biggest daily increase since early May.

“The choice is either everybody follows the rules, or we will have to take more measures,” he said. “I don’t want to see more restrictive measures, but if people don’t follow the rules that’s how the virus spreads.”

Hancock spoke after the government confirmed that people in England who refuse an order to self-isolate could be fined up to £10,000 (RM53,200). A new legal duty requires people to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus, or are traced as a close contact.

“I’m very worried about this second wave,” Hancock said. “We’ve seen in Europe it can shoot through the roof. I can’t overemphasise enough the importance of this message: We must follow rules on social distancing. That way we can avoid an incredibly difficult lockdown until the cavalry comes with a vaccine and mass testing is on the horizon.”

In an interview on BBC TV’s “Andrew Marr show”, Hancock held out of the prospect of a vaccine by the end of the year or “more likely” in early 2021.

With infections on the rise, the UK test and trace system is under strain and millions of people across the country have been placed under local restrictions. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has warned further restrictions will probably be needed “soon” in the British capital.

There are reports that ministers are considering a two-week national lockdown in October as a virus “circuit-breaker”. Hancock once again refused to rule out any option, but insisted country-wide measures were a “last line of defence”.

Another lockdown would deliver a further blow to an economy that shrank more than any other major developed country during the pandemic.

Keir Starmer, leader of the Opposition Labour Party, urged Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson’s government to fix the ailing test-and-trace programme, which officials regard as vital to keep infection rates down and to give people confidence to return to work.

“If I was the PM I would be apologising for the fact that we are in this situation with testing,” he told the Marr show. Starmer urged the government to reinstate its daily coronavirus press conferences. — Bloomberg