The real Covid killer? A second crackdown that could blight business

8 September 2020, 22:37 | Updated: 9 September 2020, 07:42

People eating on restaurant tables placed outside on Frith St in Soho, London
People eating on restaurant tables placed outside on Frith St in Soho, London. Picture: PA

As British businesses slowly recover from the impact of lockdown, the government has launched a crackdown on social gatherings in England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to update the country on England's rules regarding social gatherings in a press conference on Wednesday.

He will say that the legal limit on people meeting up will be reduced from 30 people to six with reasonable exemptions in place, such as for work, education, weddings and funerals.

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Professor Gabriel Scally, President of Epidemiology & Public Health at the Royal Society of Medicine, told LBC’s Nick Ferrari today: “In some parts of the country, places like Blackburn, Oldham, Rochdale, the full lockdown didn’t work.

“I don’t think this measure alone will do it and it may distract us from doing what really needs to be done, and that is getting an effective testing and tracing system because it’s a shambles at the moment.”

The decision follows the news that the number of daily coronavirus cases in the UK rose to almost 3,000 on both Sunday and Monday.

On Tuesday there were a further 2,420 infections, while the number of people to die with the virus in the UK jumped from three to 30, which is ten times higher than on the same day one week ago, taking Britain's death toll to 41,584.

However, since 2015, seasonal flu is estimated to have killed about 17,000 people in Britain per year, which works out at just over 1,400 people per month.

This fluctuates throughout the year, with the summer months being understandably lower than the likes of December and January.

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Meanwhile, in August, there were 627 deaths in the UK of people who had tested positive for coronavirus.

The new measure will apply to people of all ages attending any social gathering, whether indoors or outdoors, and will include private homes, as well as parks, pubs and restaurants.

However, other exemptions will include households or support bubbles that are larger than six, or team sports that are organised in a Covid-secure way.

The new rule will be enforceable by law to make it easier for the police to identify and break up illegal gatherings.

Mr Johnson is expected to say: "We need to act now to stop the virus spreading. So we are simplifying and strengthening the rules on social contact – making them easier to understand and for the police to enforce.

“It is absolutely critical that people now abide by these rules and remember the basics – washing your hands, covering your face, keeping space from others, and getting a test if you have symptoms.”

If people fail to comply with officers attempting to disperse gatherings they could be fined £100, which will double each time the offence is repeated with an upper limit of £3,200.

The decision was agreed upon by the government, Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

It follows a video conference the prime minister held with police forces last week, during which officers asked for the rules on social contact to be simplified.

A full list of exemptions will be published on the government's website before the law changes on Monday.

The UK's rise in Covid-19 infections follows a similar pattern occurring in other European nations such as Spain and France.

Both countries are also witnessing an increase in hospital admissions, while in Spain deaths are also on the rise.

From tomorrow, the government will launch a new public information campaign to highlight how people can stop the transmission of the virus.

It will remind everyone to wash their hands, cover their face and make space to ensure social distancing is achieved.

A new video will be released showing exactly how Covid spreads indoors, while a 'Hands. Face. Space.' campaign will run on TV and radio, in print, on out of home advertising and across social and digital displays.

The film, which has been produced with the help of scientific experts, will encourage people to follow simple steps to limit the risk of infection.

It comes in preparation for the autumn and winter when more people are expected to spend a greater amount of time inside.

It comes after scientists and politicians issued a rallying cry for people to remember to maintain social distancing and keep washing their hands and wearing face coverings where necessary following a rise in cases.

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said people must "be very serious about the control measures" and that scientists are monitoring data closely for signs of wider community transmission of the disease.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the recent rise in the number of coronavirus cases is "concerning".

He said: "Although we are encouraged to return to the workplace to support jobs, cafes and so on, we need to do so responsibly.

"As we approach the autumn and winter there is going to be even more responsibility on all of us to keep following the guidelines.

"Nobody wants to see a return to full national restrictions of the kind we had earlier this year."

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said on Monday that the public had "relaxed too much" over the summer and described the rising number of cases were of "great concern".

And he said if it is not taken seriously again, the UK will face "a bumpy ride over the next few months."

Public health consultant Dr Bharat Pankhania told LBC on Tuesday: “We won’t have a [second] national lockdown because we haven’t got the stamina for it.

“Our case numbers didn’t go down, down and down and remain so low that we couldn’t start opening up.

“We always maintained a background level of cases.

“Going forward to the autumn months I expect case numbers to go up especially with all the businesses opening up, schools opening up.

“I don’t mean to say we keep the country closed forever I mean we get our act together. If we enabled local testing and local contact tracing we would be in a much better place.”

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