UK at ‘critical point’ in virus surge with London at risk

LONDON • Britain is at a “critical point” in the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was told yesterday, as concern mounts that a second lockdown may be needed to stop the renewed spread of the disease.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty plans to sound the alert, saying UK data are heading in the “wrong direction”, according to a preview of remarks prepared for a public briefing.

The warning comes amid expectations that local restrictions could soon be extended to London. Mayor Sadiq Khan will recommend tightened rules for the capital yesterday, LBC radio reported.

Whitty’s comments underscore the balancing act facing Johnson’s government, which is trying to keep infections under control without inflicting further damage on an economy that slumped more than any other developed country during the pandemic.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has indicated that further support is needed to prevent large- scale business collapses and job losses. He is preparing to extend four loan programmes that have already provided £53 billion (RM280.9 billion) of credit for companies through state guarantees, the Financial Times reported. The Treasury declined to comment.

With daily cases of the disease at the highest level since May, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that national restrictions could be reimposed unless people comply with rules that include limiting gatherings to six people.

The government reinforced that message by announcing that people in England who refuse an order to self-isolate could be fined as much as £10,000. A new legal duty requires people to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus, or are traced as a close contact, starting Sept 28.

The government reported 3,899 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday following 4,422 on Saturday, fuelling concern that the UK could follow the paths of Spain and France, where hospitalisations are rising again.

Whitty and Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance will outline potential scenarios as Britain moves into a “very challenging winter”, showing how the second wave of infections being experienced in other countries could be replicated in the UK.

The UK test-and-trace system is under strain and local restrictions in place in the north and midlands are expected to be extended to London, where infection rates are the highest in the country after the northwest. Asked if London office workers could be asked to work from home this week, Hancock told Times Radio: “Well, I wouldn’t rule it out.”

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