Hancock warns Britain at 'tipping point' as Covid cases increase

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned Britain is at a “tipping point” as he refused to rule out a second national coronavirus lockdown if the public fails to follow social distancing rules.

With cases rising across the country, Mr Hancock said there was a danger the numbers could “shoot through the roof” unless effective action was taken to halt the spread of the virus.

His warning came as the government announced anyone in England who refuses an order to self-isolate could face a fine of up to £10,000.

At the same time ministers have said people on benefits in England will be eligible for a one off support payment of £500 if they face a loss of earnings as a result of being required to self-isolate.

In interviews on Sunday morning, the Health Secretary said that hospital admissions for the disease were doubling “every eight days” and would be followed by an increase in the number of 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."

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.

“We have seen in other countries around Europe how it can absolutely shoot through the roof,” he told Sky News' Sophy Ridge.

“When the case rate shoots up, the next thing that happens is the numbers going into hospital shoot up.

“Sadly, we have seen that rise, it is doubling every eight days or so – people going into hospital – then, with a lag, you see the number of people dying sadly rise.”

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, will give a live public briefing at 11am on Monday on the latest coronavirus data.

They will “explain how the virus is spreading and the potential scenarios” as we move into winter.

At the briefing, Professor Whitty is expected to say:  “The trend in 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 will not be at the briefing, but is expected to hold a press conference on Tuesday.

ITV News Political Correspondent Dan Hewitt says there's concern in Downing Street about the rise in infections

While Labour leader Keir Starmer said he supports the crackdown, he said the prime minister should apologise "for the mess that we’ve got into on testing".

And Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has called on the government to reconvene Cobra as a matter of urgency, with places for all the English regions.

He said more focus on the needs of northern communities and businesses was needed, with large parts of the North of England under local restrictions and a “north-south divide” on access to testing.

Another 3,899 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were announced on Sunday, bringing the total to 394,257, while a further 18 people had died within 28 days of testing positive, bringing the UK total to 41,777.

Professor Carl Heneghan, director of Oxford University’s centre for evidence-based medicine, said the country “can’t afford to go now with harsh measures”, saying there will be an inevitable resurgence in cases.

He added that there “has to be a level of immunity for this to become manageable”, pointing to Sweden, which had a “rational debate” and kept the virus at manageable levels through the summer.

Prof Heneghan told Sky News that Covid-19 was operating in a seasonal way similar to other respiratory infections, saying: “What we have to do now is slow down, this is a long winter.”

He said: “If we go now it’s too early. As it gets colder, as we’re inside more, there will be more coughs and colds.

“If you’re looking at a break and when we need it, we need it in the mid-winter when we might run into problems.

“There’s no evidence right now of what’s called a second wave.”

Boris Johnson says the measures are necessary to curb the spread of the disease Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Boris 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.

As of Tuesday, around 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.

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 Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 Committee, said he intends to table an amendment which would require the government to put any new measures to a vote of MPs.

He told The Sunday Telegraph that he would take the opportunity to seek to amend the legislation when the government comes to renew the emergency powers in the Coronavirus Act 2020.