Boris Johnson faced renewed pressure to consider a stricter national lockdown amid numbers suggesting local measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus were not working.
Professor Calum Semple, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Board specializing in disease outbreaks, recommended considering a “breaker” on a national basis to slow the virus down instead of trying to reduce it later .
When asked by the Prime Minister, union leader Sir Keir Starmer said that infection rates had increased in 19 of the 20 areas exposed to local action for two months.
And Sir Keir asked why constituencies like Mr Johnson’s were spared additional curbs, while seats in the north with similar coronavirus levels were restricted.
In a personal capacity, Prof. Semple – a member of the Sage Scientific Advisory Group – told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that “maybe a breaker would have been a really good idea a few weeks ago”.
He added, “It is always easier to reduce an outbreak at an earlier stage than to let it run and then reduce at a later time.
“So, yes, circuit breakers are certainly something we should think about on a national basis.”
There were 2,783 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals in England and 349 patients on ventilators as of Tuesday, according to the government’s coronavirus dashboard.
The number of those admitted to English hospitals on Sunday – the last day for which the numbers are available – was 478, almost twice as many as seven days earlier.
Hospital admissions and ventilatory patients in England are the highest since June.
The number of cases has risen sharply in the last few weeks. At 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, 14,542 cases of coronavirus were laboratory confirmed in the UK. Two weeks ago, on September 22nd, 4,926 cases were recorded.
Union leader Sir Keir questioned the way local restrictions had been put in place after colleague Jonathan Ashworth suspected that there was “suspicion” of “political interference” in favor of the Tory heartland.
Sir Keir said: “There are 62 cases per 100,000 in Prime Minister Hillingdon’s local authority today, but no local restrictions. However, restrictions were imposed in 20 areas across England when infection rates were much lower.
“In Kirklees it was only 29 per 100,000.”
Mr Johnson indicated that stricter measures may be needed in the capital and the Midlands.
“I wish I could pretend everything was going to be rosy in the Midlands or London, where infections are also unfortunately increasing,” he said, calling for a “concerted national effort.”
Sir Keir said 19 of the 20 areas that were first subjected to targeted restrictions had increased cases.
“The Prime Minister cannot explain why an area is restricted, he cannot explain what the various restrictions are, and he cannot explain how restrictions end,” said Sir Keir.
“It’s getting ridiculous.”
The Prime Minister insisted that the government “would continue our package to suppress the virus not only nationally but also locally and regionally”.
When Mr Johnson faced a possible Tory revolt next week because of the 10 p.m. curfew, Sir Keir urged him to publish the scientific evidence of the measure or commit to reviewing the rule.
As the latest sign of the damage the restrictions are doing to the hospitality industry, Greene King plans to cut around 800 jobs and close dozens of pubs after trading plummeted after the 10pm rule.
The rise in cases has led to warnings from northern city leaders that local lockdown restrictions are confusing and even “counterproductive” as they call for new powers to combat resurgence.
Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle City Council leaders – Judith Blake, Sir Richard Leese and Nick Forbes – joined the Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson in writing to Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying they were “extremely concerned” about the increase of the cases.
“The existing restrictions do not work, are confusing to the public and some, like the 10pm rule, are counter-productive,” wrote the Labor politicians.
They called for additional powers to punish those who break the rules, the development of new restrictions by the police, council and public health experts, and a locally controlled testing and tracking system.
“However, we want to make it clear that we do not support any further economic blockades,” added the heads of state and government.