The public must start taking coronavirus “very seriously again” after people “relaxed too much” over the summer, England’s deputy chief medical officer has warned.
Professor Jonathan Van Tam said the recent surge in infections was of “great concern” and the UK faced “a bumpy ride over the next few months” if cases continued to rise.
His comments came after figures showing that the UK’s coronavirus infection rate had surpassed 20 cases in 100,000 people — the level at which the Government considers imposing quarantine restrictions on foreign countries.
Although the rise in UK cases has mainly been in young people, Prof Van Tam said, similar outbreaks in EU countries had later spread into more vulnerably populations.
“People have relaxed too much,” he said. “Now is the time for us to re-engage and realise that this is a continuing threat to us.
“It’s all very well saying that hospital admissions and deaths are at a very low level in the UK, which is true, but if you look further into the European Union you can see that where case numbers rise initially in the younger parts of the population they do, in turn, filter through and start to give elevated rates of disease and hospital admissions in the older age groups and we know that that then becomes a serious public health problem.
“That’s my concern, that if we don’t get on top of this, if people don’t start to take this seriously again, then there is a risk that that’s where we end up.”
A further 2,948 cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the 24 hours up to 9am on Monday, after 2,988 cases were announced on Sunday — the highest figure since May 22.
Stricter rules on home visits will be extended to two areas in western Scotland from midnight, while the Welsh county borough of Caerphilly will be put under local lockdown from 6pm on Tuesday.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, warned that Covid-19 cases are “increasing exponentially”.
In an interview with Robert Peston for ITV News, he warned that he UK had yet to “hit the sweet spot” between opening up from lockdown and controlling the spread of the virus.
The epidemiologist, a professor in the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the next few months would be a challenge.
” I didn’t want us to relax measures so much that we couldn’t open the schools safely without it tipping the reproduction number significantly above 1. And we are already above 1 and we’ve opened schools. So this is a risky period,” he said.
“[Visiting people in homes] is quite risky…You are there for quite a long time. It is impossible to socially distance with family members, things like that,” he said.
“The epidemic continues to increase and then we have Christmas. And that is very difficult. What is Christmas? Well it’s meeting with your family very close. Restaurants and pubs and stuff like that. And it’s all high risk. And it’s all indoors. Indoors makes a difference.
“We’ve been lucky with the weather, and it’s turned.”