Documents from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) released on Friday showed that Covid was spreading much faster across England than even the worst-case scenario the government predicted for cases and hospital admissions earlier this this month.
Official figures also showed more than half a million people are believed to have had coronavirus in the week ending October 23, with more than one in 100 people infected in England, up from one in 130 the week before. . There were 24,405 other positive tests in the UK and 274 more deaths.
Although ministers said the evidence supports regional restrictions, a national breaker in England – as recommended by Sage in September – has not been ruled out.
The impact on the economy would however be significant. Many stores make most of their profits in the “Golden Quarter” between Halloween and the January sales. The British Retail Consortium has launched a campaign asking shoppers to ‘shop early, start packing, enjoy Christmas’.
Cases are growing faster in London and the south-east than in the north of England, which is under stricter measures, but the whole country is at a critical point, a report warned this week from Imperial College London.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab did not deny that ministers were considering introducing a higher level of level 4 coronavirus restrictions for England on Friday, with officials drawing up plans to force restaurants and non-essential stores to close in areas with the highest infection rates. .
Almost 60% of the English population is now subject to level 2 or 3 measures, preventing households from mixing inside. Without intervention, it was “only a matter of time” before most, if not all, of the country faced such restrictions, warned Dr Mike Tildesley.
Tildesley, an epidemiologist at the University of Warwick, helped produce a “reasonable worst-case scenario” for Sage’s modeling subgroup, which warned that 85,000 people could die from Covid this winter.
He told the Guardian: “As epidemiologists we have to think about the impact on public health and that is really essential, but I think it is important for us to recognize that the general public has had a. rather rotten year. [but] I don’t think any scientific group is advocating removing all restrictions on Christmas – clearly that’s not possible.
“But speaking on my behalf, what I would like to see is that we are able to do a little slacking off, for example by allowing slightly larger family groups to be together, maybe with the rule of 10 or 12 instead of six. To do that, we have to do something like a blackout or something on a more national scale to reduce incidents… sooner or later. ”
Leicester Royal Infirmary consulting virologist Dr Julian Tang said: ‘If we start now I would say you would need at least six weeks of lockdown with full compliance across the country. The government should fund this because the economy would be badly affected.
“Unfortunately after Christmas and New Years cases will increase again, but if we want this break we might have enough drop [the reproduction number] to give everyone a break… If you say ‘if you want to save Christmas from the Grinch coronavirus’ then I think people will. ”
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said tighter restrictions in the decentralized countries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland appeared to be working and England should follow suit. not with a national circuit breaker.
“I think it should be done, I don’t really see any other options, but I don’t think it would give us a normal Christmas,” she said. “However, I hope if you had a circuit breaker it would bring the whole country to level 1 by Christmas.
“I’m cautiously optimistic here in Scotland that we might be able to meet people inside two or three households, for example. This is not normal, but it would allow you to see immediate family.
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: ‘I think if we approach a national cut in the right way at the right time it would allow families more contact during the Christmas season than would otherwise be the case – especially if we ask families to manage their own isolation arrangements… so that maybe two households can bubble together.
At a press conference on Friday he presented figures showing cases in London and the south-east had increased by 55% and 63% week after week, compared to 43% in Greater Manchester.
Birmingham City Council chief Ian Ward called for an urgent national lockdown for four weeks, warning that the Level 3 curbs were not enough to protect the NHS. “The sooner we put in a national circuit breaker, the better because it will save lives and do more to save the economy,” he said.
“If there are eight weeks left before Christmas … we need four weeks [national] circuit breaker … [as] the best opportunity to get the numbers under control to bring case rates down again and allow some relaxation, or other restrictions, for families this Christmas season. ”
Downing Street fears Covid measures will not be respected on Christmas. This week, TV and radio presenter Victoria Derbyshire was forced to apologize after saying she would break the ‘rule of six’ for her celebratory lunch.
Others suggested ways around the rules, including holding a funeral on December 25 for a “pet turkey”, while a man from Leeds started a business so he could organize an ‘unpaid work event’ with people outside his home on Christmas Day.
On Thursday, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said the best chance of getting some ‘Christmas cheer’ was to stick to the various tiered restrictions for areas across Scotland. .
UK Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said he doubts a family of more than six could meet at Christmas. “I think because they missed that window of opportunity during the semester, I’m worried now that what we’ll see is deeper and more drastic lockdown action in November and December, which unfortunately probably puts Christmas on in danger, ”he told Times Radio.
His Labor colleague Khalid Mahmood, Birmingham MP Perry Barr, said it was now time for those planning to celebrate Christmas to recognize the sacrifices made by Muslims across the UK earlier this year. Sections of northern England were blocked on July 31, hours before the Eid-al-Adha holiday.
“People were getting ready to see their families, all the food had been cooked, clothes had been bought and, literally, with a few hours’ notice, Eid was canceled in some parts of the country,” he said. he declares.
“But we bit the bullet and stayed resolute and we just got down to doing it because we were being told we had a duty and we couldn’t drop the court. Now is the time for others to do the same. ”
Sage proposed a national circuit breaker for the October semester starting September 16. But despite opinion polls suggesting the majority of the public would have backed a two-week breaker in October, the advice was ignored by ministers.