It comes as the Government Office for Science has revealed that the UK’s ‘R’ breeding number of COVID-19 infections has risen and may be above 1, indicating a risk of the global epidemic developing.
Britain’s R number is between 1.0 and 1.2, the government said, up from 0.9 to 1.1 last week. The daily growth rate for the UK as a whole is between -1% and 3%, compared to -1% and 2%.
The R number represents the average number of people to whom an infected person will transmit the virus.
An R number greater than 1 can lead to exponential growth very quickly, although the numbers are determined by local outbreaks, and scientists have said that estimates are less reliable when the overall incidence of the virus is low.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces an open revolt from some Tory backbench MPs over new ‘absolutely grotesque’ lockdown restrictions that limit social gatherings to six people.
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A former minister said: “It is time for us to start living as a free people, without subjecting ourselves to constantly changing legal requirements.”
It comes amid reports that ministers are divided over new social distancing rules in England that will limit social gatherings to groups of six people both indoors and outdoors from Monday.
The Daily Telegraph reported on Friday that top Tories also wanted young children to be exempt from the so-called ‘sixth rule’ in England, while the Daily Mail claimed Health Secretary Matt Hancock was the only one minister of Mr Johnson’s coronavirus strategy committee to support the plan at a meeting on Tuesday, the day before its announcement by the prime minister.
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Speaking on Friday, former Conservative Minister Steve Baker told BBC Radio 4’s Today program: “I think now is the time to say that this is not a suitable legal environment for the British people.
“It’s time to move to a voluntary system – unless the government can demonstrate otherwise.
“And it’s time for us to start living as a free people, free from ever-changing legal requirements, which I think no one can fully understand now.
“It seems to me that the effect of having COVID commissioners will be to transform every public space in Britain into the equivalent of going through the security of the airports where we are harassed and directed… I am not willing to live as it. ”
Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne said the ban was “absolutely grotesque”.
Meanwhile, the Liverpool city region has been included in the government’s coronavirus watchlist due to a growing number of cases.
Metropolitan Mayor Steve Rotheram said: “Over the past week we have seen a rapid increase in coronavirus cases in the Liverpool City area.
“We’re not yet at the stage where further restrictions are placed on us – as other areas have done – but if we continue on our current course, it will become a case of when, not if it happens.”
“There is still time to stop this – but it is up to us and what we choose to do. “