Stop virus surge to protect Christmas, warns PM as more restrictions expected
By Jane Kirby and Aine Fox, PA
Boris Johnson has warned actions to stop a second surge of coronavirus must be “tough now” in order to “protect” Christmas.
His words came as stricter new measures are set to be announced for the North East of England, including a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants.
The PM said people have to be “both confident and cautious” and that it is “crucial” the country does not re-enter “some great lockdown again that stops business from functioning”.
He told The Sun: “Christmas we want to protect, and we want everyone to have a fantastic Christmas.
“But the only way to make sure the country is able to enjoy Christmas is to be tough now.
“So if we can grip it now, stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump.”
He spoke as people in the North East await an announcement on Thursday on new measures which are expected to come into effect from midnight.
Newcastle upon Tyne has also seen a sharp rise in its rate, up from 51.2 to 64.1, with 194 new cases in the seven days to September 13.
There were 141 new cases in South Tyneside, up from 92 the previous week, and 198 in county Durham, a rise from 172.
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme his team had sent proposals to the Department of Health for pubs and restaurants to close at 10pm and for people to be banned from socialising outside their bubble.
“We know from the tracing that we’re doing, that the three main areas where we’re seeing the spread of the virus at the moment are in pubs and bars, in people’s homes….and in grassroots sports,” he said.
“So in pubs and restaurants, we’ve asked for a 10pm curfew or 10pm closure of all pubs and restaurants.
“And we’ve also asked for table service only to prevent people congregating and standing around bar areas. It’s much easier for people to maintain social distancing if it’s seating only.
“We’ve asked for people to only have contact between households if they’re in a social bubble, and for people not to make contact with people outside of their own households or their own social bubble.”
He said one exemption to this rule would be for extended family members who provide childcare.
Mr Forbes said people needed to understand that “if we don’t get on top of this now, it’s going to get out of control”.
Some 40,000 students were expected back in the city and there was now a need for extra testing capacity to keep them safe, he added.
“I think we should all be deeply concerned about the rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases we have seen over the last week in the North East,” he said.
“And not just the rapid rise in numbers, but also the fact that the average age of people being infected is going up as well.
“Last week 60% of the people that were being tested were between the ages of 18 and 30.
“That is now starting to reach into older age groups as well.
“We know that when it starts to affect older people that’s when you start to get the hospitalisations and sadly also the mortality too.
“That’s why we are acting now as a preventative measure to try to put off any further spread of the virus and ensure that we don’t end up here in the North East in a more restrictive lockdown instead.”
In south Wales, a local lockdown will come into force from 6pm on Thursday, meaning people must not enter or leave the Rhondda Cynon Taf area without a reasonable excuse.
Under new rules, licensed pubs, bars and restaurants in the area will have to close at 11pm – and meetings with other people indoors will not be allowed, including for extended households.
The area has the highest testing positivity rate in Wales, with the seven-day new case rate at 82.1 per 100,000 people in the area.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday evening, Professor Anthony Costello, a former World Health Organisation director who sits on the independent Sage panel, said England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, had asked for a national two-week lockdown.
Prof Costello tweeted: “I’m hearing from a well-connected person that government now thinks, in absence of testing, there are 38,000 infections per day.
“Chris Whitty is advising PM for a two-week national lockdown.”
Health minister Edward Argar played down those reports on Thursday, telling Sky News: “It is not something I have seen within the department.
“The Prime Minister has been very clear on this.
“He doesn’t want to see another national lockdown.
“He wants to see people abiding by the regulations and making the local lockdowns work.”
The spikes in infection rates come as Mr Johnson admitted there is not enough capacity in the testing system after demand “massively accelerated” in recent weeks.
He told MPs at the Liaison Committee on Wednesday: “We don’t have enough testing capacity now because, in an ideal world, I would like to test absolutely everybody that wants a test immediately.”
He said the virus was spreading from the young to the more vulnerable elderly, with the rate of cases among the over-80s doubling in just days – and warned that would “lead to mortality”.
On Thursday afternoon, Baroness Dido Harding, who is interim executive chairwoman of the National Institute for Health Protection and oversees the NHS Test and Trace system, is due to give evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee.
Following the publication of the latest test-and-trace figures last week, the Tory peer insisted the system was “working” despite key targets being missed and the number of close contacts being reached falling to a record low.