UK operating into COVID-19 headwind, warns chief medic forward of latest guidelines

London, October 11

One of the UK’s senior-most government medical advisers on Sunday warned that the country was running into a headwind with the number of coronavirus infections at a “tipping point” similar to the one back in March, when Britain went into a national lockdown.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, issued a stark warning that the dreaded “R number”, or the rate at which the infection is being transmitted within society, is now between 1.2 and 1.5, which means the epidemic grows larger as every one case generates more than one new case.

His warning comes a day before UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to make a statement in the House of Commons on a new three-tier system of rules for localised lockdowns.

“We are in the middle of a severe pandemic and the seasons are against us. Basically, we are running into a headwind,” said Van-Tam, in a statement issued by the Department of Health and Social Care.

“ONS data show that an estimated 224,000 people have the virus – up from 116,000 last week, hospital admissions for COVID-19 are rising again, as are intensive care admissions…Sadly, just as night follows day, increases in deaths will now follow on in the next few weeks,” he said, adding that the “good news” is that there is more certainty that children are usually not badly affected by this virus.

Van-Tam’s message for ensuring that the number of COVID-19 cases is kept down for the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) to be able to cope with a spike in hospital admissions comes ahead of the much-anticipated speech by Boris Johnson to Parliament to lay out a simpler traffic light approach to restrictions on gatherings.

He is set to unveil three tiers of infection management, alongside local regions across the country being handed greater decision-making powers as part of efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The most severe measures imposed for areas of England will fall within the third tier and see people ordered not to have any social contact with anyone outside their household together with the expected closures of pubs, bars and restaurants where some of the highest numbers of cases are occurring.

Tier one, the least extreme, is likely to see people expected to follow the “rule of six” on gatherings and maintain social distancing. Tier two could include a ban on households from mixing in homes, gardens, pubs, bars or restaurants.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson has said he expected Liverpool – where there are currently 600 cases per 100,000 people – to be placed in tier three, under the highest set of restrictions. Other area in the north of England where the disease is seen to be spreading most rapidly, such as Leeds and Sheffield, are also expected to fall in the top tier.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also repeated his warnings that tougher restrictions in the UK capital are “inevitable”. — PTI

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