Professor warns coronavirus cases could 'cascade' unless fast action is taken

Video report by ITV News Reporter Mark McQuillan

The UK needs to act fast to prevent a "cascade" of coronavirus cases and the situation growing out of control, a scientific advisor to the government has said.

Professor Peter Openshaw warned that a delay of even a few days could be potentially "dangerous".The professor of experimental medicine, Imperial College London, said the new "rule of six" can seem “somewhat irrational” at times, but the alternative could be a wider lockdown, a top scientist has said.

From Monday, it will be illegal for people in England or Scotland to meet in groups of more than six, inside or outside, while in Wales people will only be able to meet in groups of six or under indoors and must all belong to the same extended household group.

No nation-wide changes to coronavirus restrictions have been made in Northern Ireland.Fines can be issued to anyone found flouting the rules, starting at £100, but which could climb to £3,200.

So, how is the new 'rule of six' going to work?

Prof Openshaw, an adviser to the government on respiratory viruses said the rule “does seem somewhat irrational in some of the detail and I can appreciate that”.

However, he added: “I’m afraid it’s going to cause pain and suffering for us all to go back to some degree of lockdown but I’m afraid if we don’t do this now we’re going to be right back in hard lockdown.

Questioned further on what he meant by “irrational”, Prof Openshaw explained to Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “I think people have been complaining widely about the fact that you can carry on doing things like exercising in groups and doing sports and getting together for special events, but yet you can’t have both a grandmother and a grandfather come to visit your home if you’re a family-of-five.

“It is inevitably going to create those difficulties which are hard to explain.”

But he added: “It is on the other hand very simple.”

A teenager in Nottingham has been fined £10,000 for holding a houseparty. Credit: Google Street View

He continued that a “trickle” of cases of Covid-19 could turn into a “cascade”, adding that if people do not abide by the “rule of six” now then the country faces going back into “hard lockdown”.

Prof Openshaw, who is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group advisory body, said: “I think everyone is in agreement that we really need to act very quickly now in order to prevent this from growing exponentially.

“I think that’s the main point is that we must act fast because it’s so much harder to get this sort of thing under control if you delay.

“Even a few days is potentially going to be quite dangerous now at this particular moment...

“We know that these are very vulnerable pockets.

"It’s not just in the younger people, it’s starting to appear in people more vulnerable and that inevitably is going to be followed by hospital admissions and deaths so we need to act quickly."

The new restrictions follow a steep rise in Covid-19 cases across the UK, with ministers particularly concerned about the number of positive cases among young people aged 17 to 21.

On Sunday, for the third day in a row, more than 3,000 people across the UK tested positive for coronavirus.

On Friday, it was revealed that the reproduction rate of coronavirus (R number) may have tipped above 1.0 in London, North East and Yorkshire, the North West and South East regions of England, meaning the spread of Covid-19 is increasing rather than decreasing.

According to government advisers, the last time R was above one was in early March.Ahead of Monday's tighter restrictions, police dispersed a number of illegal gatherings overnight in to Sunday, as revellers made the most of the final weekend before tougher rules are imposed.

Greater Manchester Police said they closed down illegal gatherings at properties in Altrincham and Flixton on Saturday night, as well as a large gathering of around 70 people in Mottram.

Fixed penalty notices were issued at each of the incidents as current rules only allow groups of up to 30 to meet.

The interventions came just hours after officers attended a gathering at an address in Stockport which had 45 people in attendance, and another address in north Manchester which they had been called to on two previous occasions.

Earlier, Nottinghamshire Police issued a teenager with a £10,000 fine for hosting a house party in Lenton, which saw more than 50 guests gather at a home on Harlaxton Drive.

The force said if the 19-year-old man fails to pay or contests the fine he will appear before a court.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cooper, from Nottinghamshire Police, warned anyone thinking of hosting parties ahead of the changes on Monday – when social gatherings in England will be limited to groups of six people both indoors and outdoors – to think again or face the consequences.

He said: “We need to all remember we are very much still in the middle of a global pandemic and we all need to take responsibility for our actions.

“I want to send out a clear message to anyone who is thinking of deliberately hosting parties tonight or tomorrow night ahead of the rules changing to please not do this.

“We are not afraid to use the full powers we have and we will not tolerate those who are deliberately putting other people’s lives in danger.”