Chief scientific adviser warns wider lockdown restrictions may be needed to curb mutant coronavirus
Tougher coronavirus restrictions will be needed across the country with cases of the mutant coronavirus strain appearing “everywhere”, the Government’s chief scientific adviser warned.
The Tier 4 lockdown was announced for London and parts of southern and eastern England at the weekend after existing Tier 3 measures proved unable to control the spread of the more infections variant.
Sir Patrick indicated a lockdown may be needed in wider areas of England, particularly as Christmas mixing may result in an increased spread of cases.
His stark warning came as:
- Countries around the world shut their borders to travellers from the UK because of the new strain of coronavirus.
- Boris Johnson spoke to Emmanuel Macron as around 170 lorries queued in Kent after the French banned them from travelling across the Channel.
- More than 500,000 people have now received the first dose of a vaccine in the UK.
- The Prime Minister refused to guarantee that schools in England will reopen after Christmas, saying “we want, if we possibly can, to get schools back in a staggered way at the beginning of January” but “the commonsensical thing to do is to follow the path of the epidemic”.
Scotland has already announced a lockdown from Boxing Day while Wales’ tough restrictions will only be eased for Christmas Day before being reimposed.
At a Downing Street news conference Sir Patrick said: “The evidence on this virus is that it spreads easily, it’s more transmissible, we absolutely need to make sure we have the right level of restrictions in place.
“I think it is likely that this will grow in numbers of the variant across the country and I think it’s likely, therefore, that measures will need to be increased in some places, in due course, not reduced.”
The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) met again on Monday to consider the new variant and while it does not appear to alter the course of the disease it does spread more easily.
“That again reinforces the point that it’s important to get ahead of this and to make sure that the tiering system is adequate to stop things going, and not to watch it and react in retrospect,” Sir Patrick said.
Given the “inevitable mixing” over Christmas “ I think there will be some increases in numbers over the next few weeks”.
Regional public health directors in Manchester and the West Midlands urged anyone who travelled from a Tier 4 area or Wales to self isolate upon their arrival and “assume” they have the new Covid-19 variant.
But Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of Nervtag, said his best assessment is that the virus will decline over the next two weeks for both the variant and non-variant.
He explained: “Contact rates tend to be lower over Christmas with the tightening of Christmas measures and Tier 4 for in place in the highest areas.”
Mr Johnson called the press conference after crunch talks involving members of the Cobra emergency committee to prevent the UK being cut off from the continent in the days before Christmas.
He said discussions were taking place to “unblock the flow of trade as fast as possible”.
Mr Macron told him he was “keen” to “sort it out in the next few hours if we can”.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged people not to travel to Kent following the closure of the French border.
Mr Johnson was unable to give a detailed breakdown of who had received the vaccine but the “vast bulk” of the initial 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab had gone to people aged over 80 and those who were clinically vulnerable.
The closure of cross-Channel routes overnight alarmed businesses, including those relying on the trouble-free passage of produce into the UK, as well as holidaymakers looking to leave for the continent – all with the added complication of the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.
Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s warned that disruption in Kent, where more than lorries remain backed up on roads around the Port of Dover, could hit supplies of lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit, all of which are imported from mainland Europe in the winter.
Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister told the PA news agency that a prolonged period of disruption would be a “quite dramatic”.
Mr Shapps said emergency measures were in place to cope with the backlog of lorries heading for the Channel ports.
The disused Manston Airport in Kent was being used for management purposes, while Operation Brock, the contingency measures which involve using a moveable barrier to keep traffic moving on the M20 whenever there is disruption at the Channel, was being put in place.
It meant hauliers from across Europe were faced with spending the night in their cabs.
- The Government said a further 215 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, while there had been 33,364 more lab-confirmed cases as of 9am Sunday.
- Official figures indicated Wales has had more than 600 cases of the new variant but this is “almost certainly a significant underestimation”, First Minister Mark Drakeford said.
- Analysis by PA found that, of the 127 acute hospital trusts with a 24-hour (type 1) A&E department in England, 42 (33%) had more Covid-19 patients on December 18 than at the peak of the first wave in the spring.
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