Whitty: UK infection rate 'heading in wrong direction' as Britain stands at 'critical point'

Professor Chris Whitty i Credit: PA

The UK coronavirus infection rate is “heading in the wrong direction”, Professor Chris Whitty will warn in a public briefing on Monday morning, as he lays the ground for tough new controls in an urgent attempt to halt the surge in infections.

In a televised briefing at 11am, the chief medical officer for England will say Britain stands at a “critical point” in the pandemic and the country faces a “very challenging winter.”

Prof Whitty, who will appear alongside the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, will explain how the virus is spreading in the UK and the potential scenarios that could unfold as winter approaches.

They will draw on data from other countries such as Spain and France, which are experiencing a second surge, to underline how their experience could be replicated in the UK.

Prof Whitty is expected to say: “The trend in the UK is heading in the wrong direction and we are at a critical point in the pandemic.

“We are looking at the data to see how to manage the spread of the virus ahead of a very challenging winter period.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spent the weekend with senior ministers and advisers discussing what action to take as the rise in the number of new cases showed no sign of slowing.

It is thought the PM could announce new measures in a press conference as early as Tuesday.

Credit: PA

Earlier on Sunday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK was at a “tipping point” in the fight against the virus and refused to rule out a second national lockdown in England, if people fail to follow the social distancing rules.

Another 3,899 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were announced on Sunday, while a further 18 people died within 28 days of testing positive, bringing the UK total to 41,777.

The latest figures came after the government announced that anyone in England refusing to obey an order to self-isolate could face a fine of up to £10,000.

Mr Hancock said that with hospital admissions for the disease doubling “every eight days or so”, further action was needed to prevent more deaths.

"We face a tipping point as a country," Mr Hancock told ITV News.

"Either everyone follows the rules or we’re going to have to take more stringent actions."

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He added a second national lockdown is not inevitable but "only if everyone sticks by the rules".

And Mr Hancock said he was “very worried” about the latest data suggesting Britain could be on the same path as Spain and France – where deaths and hospitalisations are increasing – without effective action.

Mr Johnson has been desperate to avoid another nationwide lockdown amid concerns about the economic damage it will inflict just as activity was beginning to pick up again.

However, as of Tuesday, about 13.5 million people across the UK will be facing some form of local restrictions as the authorities grapple with the disease.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is now pressing ministers to extend the controls to the capital, which he believes may be just “two or three days” behind the hotspots of the North West and North East of England.

The mayor will meet council leaders on Monday to discuss lockdown measures for the capital, as Mr Hancock warned an introduction of new lockdown restrictions in London within days cannot be ruled out.

Boris Johnson has meetings ahead. Credit: PA

Among the measures being considered by ministers is a temporary two-week “circuit break”, with tighter restrictions across England in an attempt to break the chain of transmission.

However, the government is facing resistance from some senior Conservative MPs concerned that ministers are taking increasingly stringent powers with little or no parliamentary scrutiny.

Sir Keir Starmer said Labour would support the measures but warned that a second national lockdown was becoming more likely because the Test and Trace programme was in a state of “near collapse”.

“Because the government’s now effectively lost control of testing, it doesn’t necessarily know where the virus is.

“So if I was the prime minister, I would apologise for the fact that testing is all over the place,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.