THE UK could be heading for a "circuit breaker" nationwide lockdown as soon as next week after hospital coronavirus cases doubled in eight days, Matt Hancock said today.
The Health Secretary refused to rule out a second national lockdown this morning amid fears Covid cases are spiraling as high as 38,000 a day, and said the country faces a "big moment".
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It came after reports the Government is considering a two-week shut down – possibly over the October half term – to curb the spread of the disease.
Experts on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-m) have suggested a temporary measure, the Financial Times reported last night.
A separate report from the BBC claims the "circuit break of a few weeks" could be on the cards – this would see schools and most workplaces remain open but hospitality businesses may be forced to shut.
Boris Johnson is said to be considering new national restrictions – possible as soon as next week – to try and get a grip on the growing crisis as cases double every week.
And speaking to Sky's Kay Burley this morning, Mr Hancock said: "The last line of defence is full national action and I don't want to see that but we will do whatever is necessary to keep people safe in a very difficult pandemic."
He told Times Radio: "The last line of defence is national action.
"I want to avoid that but we can only do that if everybody follows the rules.
"We know that a national lockdown works because it did last time, and we can see in the figures that this is a serious moment."
He added: "This is a big moment for the country…
"It is the thing we can do to keep people safe if that's what's needed."
It's the strongest words yet about the possibility of another national shut down – despite the PM insisting he doesn't want one.
The PM has stressed he never wants to shut down the nation's schools again.
One Sage member told the FT: "As schools will be closed for one week at half-term, adding an extra week to that will have limited impact on education."
It comes as…
- Mr Hancock said the number of people going into hospital with the virus is doubling every eight days
- Hundreds of drinkers hit the town for a last boozy night out before a North East lockdown comes into force today
- Lancashire and Merseyside face lockdowns with a 10pm pub and restaurant curfew – expected to be announced later today
- Scores of coronavirus hotspots across the country have emerged in recent weeks
- Coronavirus cases rose by 3,395 with 21 deaths recorded yesterday
- A new 90-minute coronavirus test is 94 per cent accurate, experts have revealed
- Yesterday the head of NHS Test & Trace admitted that calls about coronavirus tests were up to FOUR times higher than the current testing capacity
The PM hasn't ruled out another national shutdown – although with the increasing number of lightning lockdowns across many regions, much of the country is already living with enforced changes.
Warning a second national lockdown would be “disastrous”, the PM said on Wednesday: “I don’t want a second national lockdown.
“I think it would be completely wrong for this country and we are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.”
But he is believed to be waiting to see the impact of the rule of six is – which was introduced on Monday – and whether it has any impact on cases.
Yesterday No10 and ministers played down reports that Professor Chris Whitty had proposed a two-week lockdown.
What national lockdown measures could be on the cards next?
PUBS SHUTTING EARLY: Hospitality venues have already been ordered to shut early in parts of Bolton, Wales and the North East of England. They will have to shut up shop at 10 or 11pm.
Boris told The Sun yesterday the Government was "looking at" these measures nationally.
TAKE AWAY ONLY: In Bolton too, restaurants are having to do takeaways only, shutting up for customers who want to sit in.
DON'T TRAVEL: In some parts of the country people are being told only to use public transport if it's essential – for work and school.
That means a trip to the pub or to see pals may be off the cards as the Government tries to stop people spreading the bug.
STOP SEEING FRIENDS: In many areas of the UK, people are banned from seeing people outside their own household to stop the spread.
That could come in nationwide too.
NO LIVE SPORT: Some people have been banned from visiting live sporting events too, to prevent them from becoming super spreader events.
THOUSANDS OF INFECTIONS
Anthony Costello, who sits on the independent SAGE panel, said that England's chief medical officer had suggested the new shutdown to curb the spread – and that cases could be as high as 38,000 a day.
However, hours later he then appeared to go back on his claims, tweeting: "I've been told by another insider I respect that Chris Whitty does not support a 2 week lockdown, so I'm pleased to correct the record."
A No10 spokesperson said of the reports of a two week shutdown: "We don't recognise that at all."
They didn't comment on the possible number of infections.
Today Mr Hancock told the nation that most people didn't catch the bug from strangers, "but, actually, most people catch it from somebody they know, and know well".
The Government's strategy is to "keep the virus down as much as is possible whilst protecting education and the economy", he added.
"And doing everything we possibly can for the cavalry that's on the horizon of the vaccine and mass testing, and the treatments that, frankly, this country has done more than any other around the world to develop."
At least 10million Brits are already under local lockdowns with tough new restrictions put in place to tackle a surge in cases.
Hundreds of drinkers hit the town for a last boozy night out before the North East was put into lockdown.
Greater Manchester, Birmingham and Leicester have also been plunged into lockdown or given restrictions that limit households mixing and curfews.
Merseyside and Lancashire – apart from Blackpool – are also expected to be hit with a North East-style lockdown, it has emerged.
Mr Hancock today said that the number of "people being hospitalized is doubling every 8 days" in a sign the virus is spreading exponentially again.
He warned: "The country once again needs to come together and recognise there is a serious challenge. That the virus is accelerating."
UK coronavirus cases rose yesterday by 3,395 with 21 more deaths – as test shortages strike across the country meaning the true figure is much higher.
Mr Hancock today admitted that demand for tests had gone "through the roof" but blamed people going for tests who didn't have any symptoms.
Yesterday the head of NHS Test & Trace admitted that calls about coronavirus tests were up to FOUR times higher than the current testing capacity.
She said the scientists had not predicted such a big uptick in cases – despite schools returning and people heading back to work.
London has also seen a rise of case rates in at least 30 boroughs.
Shocking figures released last week by Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori show the number of cases of the deadly virus is doubling every seven to eight days in England.
And the R rate – which shows the number of people, on average, that one infected person will pass the virus on to – has ballooned to 1.7.
Meanwhile, Brits have struggled to book appointments to get tested due to a backlog of about 240,000 swabs.
Just this week it was claimed no tests were available in England's top 10 hotspots.
Londonders have even been told to pretend they are from Aberdeen to get a local coronavirus test amid the booking chaos.
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