Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks
Words By Digital Multimedia Producer Connor Parker
With coronavirus cases rising across the country and the chief medical officer warning the infection rate is “heading in the wrong direction”, life for most people could soon look very different.
On Monday, the government's top scientific advisors, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, held a public briefing in which they laid the ground for tough new controls in an urgent attempt to halt the surge in infections.
The prime minister also cautioned that the government is considering if restrictions could "go further".
The UK is currently in a precarious position, with almost 4,000 new coronavirus cases confirmed on Sunday.
There are fears we are currently in a similar situation to March when the situation was changing rapidly and events that felt unlikely one day were a reality a week later.
It comes as the UK's testing infrastructure has struggled to meet a rise in demand.Public Health England warned on Friday there “far worse things to come”, as the Office for National Statistics said cases are thought to have almost doubled in a week to 6,000 a day in England.
Here's what might happen in the coming days as the government tries to keep control of the virus.
Cases continue to rise
The government has introduced several new measures in recent weeks to try and combat the rise in case numbers, including the rule of six and putting more areas into local lockdowns.
But these measures often take several weeks to take effect, experts have warned, meaning for the time being cases are going to continue to rise.
The chief medical officer for England hinted at curbs to social lives being needed to prevent coronavirus spiralling out of control, saying “we have to break unnecessary links between households because that is the way in which this virus is transmitted”.
Prof Whitty warned the country to brace for a tough winter.
He said at the briefing: “At this point the seasons are against us, we’re now going into the seasons – late autumn and winter – which benefit respiratory viruses, and it is very likely they will benefit Covid, as they do, for example, flu.
“So we should see this as a six-month problem that we have to deal with collectively, it’s not indefinite.”
Daniel Lawson a professor at the University of Bristol's School of Mathematics told ITV News: "Things are going to get worse before they get better."
The UK R number – which represents the number of people an infected person will pass the virus to – has risen to between 1.1 and 1.4, meaning cases can rise very quickly, according to Sage.
Prof Lawson said due to the issue around testing, the data coming in will be unreliable, but the most important thing to track is the increase or decrease in the R number.
Andrew Lee, professor of Public Health at the University of Sheffield, told ITV News cases are going to "increase and increase"
He added: "There is a momentum to any epidemic once there are enough infections it builds up a momentum that is very difficult to slow down."Both professors pointed to the lack of testing capability being a key problem in how the country responds to the pandemic.
The issues with testing leads to another lockdown
The government is said to be considering a "circuit breaker" lockdown for two weeks in an attempt to quickly get the infection rate under control.
The country is already subject to the rule of six in some form or another across the UK and there are tighter restrictions affecting almost 14 million people.
Prof Lawson said local lockdowns have worked in the past and alongside the current measures case numbers should plateau.
But he described the current situation with testing as a "disaster."
Experts have warned that without effective testing and tracing, it will be much harder to control the spread of the virus and pinpoint larger outbreaks.
Professor Sian Griffiths discusses what a 'circuit breaker' lockdown is
Professor Sian Griffiths, a Public Health England advisor told ITV News a "circuit breaker" lockdown might be necessary.
She said: "The concept of a circuit breaker would be about breaking that flow, breaking the chain of transmission of the virus, so that means keeping our distance."
The Prime Minister has said his government is considering whether it needs to "go further" with potential restrictions but added a second national lockdown was the "last thing anybody wants".
Gabriel Scally, Visiting Professor of Public Health at the University of Bristol and a member of Independent SAGE, told ITV news: "The government were warned months ago that the system they established wasn't up for the job."He said the situation needed to be fixed as a "matter of urgency" or risk missing "the opportunity to save a lot of lives because hospital numbers are already increasing."
Professor Scally said we could avoid a lockdown if the government changed tactic and focused and improving the test and trace system - with more emphasis on people isolating and supporting them through it.
He also said pubs and restaurants should close indoors and people should be told to work from home again.
Closing pubs was something Health Secretary Matt Hancock did not rule out when questioned on Monday morning.
The Tory MP said the government had not yet taken the “final decisions” on what response was necessary, but said the changes would be announced in the “very, very near future”.
Professor Lee said it was time to act now, and expected to see new restrictions coming in soon.He said: "My worry is when you are delayed with testing and you are not able to identify who is infected you are not able to clampdown on transmission.
"Every delay gives more time for infections to increase.
"We have to act quickly and decisively because if you let it spread and increase it takes a lot more time to slow down."
Professor Lawson agreed the problems with testing made the situation worse and said he "wouldn't be surprised" if we saw more nationwide restrictions next week.
Changes to schools
While the government may be considering fresh restrictions it is thought unlikely they would move to close schools straight away.
Mr Hancock suggested that any new restrictions would focus on social settings rather than schools or the workplace.
The health secretary told ITV’s This Morning he wanted to avoid school closures: “The evidence is … schools aren’t where a lot of the transmission happens, it’s more about people socialising.”
He pointed out that there were already parts of the country where “there are measures in place to say that you shouldn’t socialise with people outside your household”.
Schools have been open for several weeks now and there have been outbreaks of coronavirus reported in institutions across the country.
A survey on Friday said more than four in five schools in England currently have children not in class because they cannot access a Covid-19 test.
The matter has been made worse by the fact many pupils are waiting for test results, according to a survey published by the school leaders union’ NAHT.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, has warned that children’s education is being “needlessly disrupted” by a testing system which is in “chaos”.
Professor Lee said the infection rate you saw in schools reflected the situation in the community, where if infections are high locally then there would be cases in the schools.
Professor Lawson said it was unlikely children would be sent home.
He said: "Schools only make a minor contribution to the infection rate and have a huge cost economically and there's not really any counter-evidence yet."
But a government spokesperson said: “Where staff or children have symptoms of Covid-19, testing capacity is the highest it has ever been, and we are working to provide further priority access for teachers.
“Schools only need to identify close contacts and ask them to self-isolate if and when a case is confirmed from a positive test result."
More protection for the vulnerable
Tighter restrictions on care home visits in areas with high numbers of coronavirus cases are expected to be announced by the government in its winter action plan.
Care homes in areas subject to local lockdowns may be advised to temporarily restrict visits in all but end-of-life situations.
This will be supported by an additional £546 million announced on Thursday as part of the extended infection control fund.
With the rise in cases being mostly attributed to young people, Professor Scally said it was "only a matter of time" before it spread back into care homes.
He said the bulk of care home staff were young people, and we would have to wait and see if the PPE and social distancing guidelines properly protected the elderly.
Professor Lee said: "It's a very real possibility, what happens in the community will eventually permeate to the care homes."Sarah MacFadyen, head of policy at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation said she understood people who needed to shield were concerned about the recent rise in cases. She said: "We know the toll shielding has taken on people and communication is key, so if there are to be any changes to shielding guidance, they need to be clearly communicated and give people enough time to get prepared.”
Sir Patrick has said that there is a possibility that small amounts of vaccine could be made available to certain groups of people by the end of the year.
He said there is “good progress being made” on developing a vaccine, adding: “Many vaccines now have shown they generate an immune response of a type that ought to be protective.
“We don’t yet know they will work but there is increasing evidence that is pointing in the right direction and it is possible that some vaccine could be available before the end of the year in small amounts for certain groups.
“Much more likely that we’ll see vaccines becoming available over the first half of next year, again not certain but pointed in the right direction, which then of course gives the possibility of a different approach to this virus.”