Covid-19: With new restrictions all but confirmed here's what might change over the next few weeks

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  • By ITV News Multimedia Producer Connor Parker

With it all but confirmed that some areas of the country will be facing tougher lockdown measures next week and cases continuing to rise, where will we be in seven days?

Almost 14,000 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the UK on Friday after a week of high numbers.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned the country faces a "perilous situation" over the next few months.

Are cases going to continue to rise?

The number of coronavirus cases in the UK continues to rise and show no signs of slowing down.

Even if new measures were introduced next week they would take some time to take effect so for the foreseeable future they will carry on rising.

Over the past seven days 153 cases per 100,000 people have been recorded in the UK.

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The R number in the UK could be as high as 1.5, while in the East of England and the South West, it could be as high as 1.6.

Sage said on Friday it was “almost certain that the epidemic continues to grow exponentially across the country, and is confident that the transmission is not slowing."

Andrew Lee, professor of Public Health at the University of Sheffield, told ITV News he suspected coronavirus cases were going to continue to rise over the coming months.

He said: "In the coming months you're going to get a lot of respiratory infections from people being indoors more and that's going to contribute to numbers rising."Gabriel Scally, Visiting Professor of Public Health at the University of Bristol and a member of Independent SAGE, told ITV News: "The level of increase is accelerating but not only is the virus going but the rate of growth is increasing substantially."

Are measures going to be enhanced?

It is almost certain that the government will be introducing enhanced restrictions for areas already under lockdown next week.

On Friday Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced he would be extending the furlough scheme for businesses that had to close due to enhanced restrictions.

He did not reveal where would be under the new restrictions but it is almost certainly in the North East and North West of England.

ITV News reports the changes in cases in the North of England

A study released on Friday estimated that coronavirus cases are doubling about twice as fast in the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands as for the whole of England.

They said the doubling time may be as low as seven days in Yorkshire and the West Midlands, and every nine days in the North West.

The government is considering introducing a tiered system of lockdowns and unifying rules among each tier.

The hard-hit areas in the North are thought to be facing the harshest tier of the new system which would see their bars and restaurants forcibly closed.

Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty on Thursday briefed MPs representing constituencies in northern England and the Midlands, where infection rates are at their highest.

He showed them slides saying that pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes account for 30% of “common exposure settings”, according to preliminary analysis of contact tracing by Public Health England. The figure rises to 41% for under-30s.

Will there be more local lockdowns?

It is likely at least a few more areas will be subject to enhanced restrictions which could come in as soon as Monday.

The three most likely are Nottingham, Exeter and Sheffield which have both seen their number of cases skyrocket in recent weeks.

The government has stepped up its enforcement of coronavirus restrictions as cases surge across the UK. Credit: PA

Nottingham has the highest weekly rate of new Covid-19 in the country with 750 cases per 100,000 people, the latest data shows.

A total of 2,532 new cases were recorded in Nottingham in the seven days to October 6 – the equivalent of 760.6 cases per 100,000 people.

It is an enormous leap from 527 new cases in the previous seven days, or 158.3 per 100,000 people.

Nottingham remains well ahead of the area with the second highest rate in England, Knowsley, which is now on 657.6 cases per 100,000.

Sheffield also has an extremely high rate of almost 426 cases per 100,000.

For context, Manchester was subject to enhanced restrictions in July when it had 20 cases per 100,000 - it now has a rate of 524.

Exeter currently has 438 cases per 100,000.

All four cities have very high student populations and have all recorded major outbreaks at university accommodations.

Professor Lee said Sheffield was in a "unique situation" because their numbers were so skewed by the 17-21 age group.

He added: "If you take out the students age group from the stats then the rise in Sheffield isn't that much.

"What we don't know yet is at what point do those infections spill over into the other age groups and if at that point and that happens then Sheffield will need more stringent measures."

What about schools and universities?

There have been outbreaks in universities and schools across the country and they don't show any sign of slowing down.

Many have been forced to move more lessons online, with the four major universities in Manchester and Sheffield going fully digital for the next few weeks.

While there has been harsh criticism levelled at the government and many universities for the way they have handled the return of students, it is unlikely they will see a change of tact outside more lessons online.

Professor Lee said the rise in cases in universities had been predicted months ago and the best way to stop the rise is to improve test and trace and put as many courses online as possible.

Professor Scally was more critical, he accused some universities of putting income over the welfare of students.

He said: "I think some universities got their missions mixed up, their mission should be about teaching and educating young people and the welfare of young people but I think some of them I think gave too much consideration to their income streams as a landlord."

It is unlikely schools will be forced to close, even in the areas put under harshest lockdowns.

Professor Whitty has pointed out on several occasions there were many negative consequences for children who miss out on their education while they were almost entirely unaffected by the virus.

Under the current proposed tier system of local lockdowns, schools would remain open in all scenarios.

Professor Scally said schools had received a "pitiful" amount of money to help them adapt and extra funding could have helped them improve their ventilation as one of many ways to fight the virus.

Will hospitalisations increase?

Yes, they will.

Professor Scally said: "We are on the trajectory to see the April level of hospital admissions."

He added: "It is inevitable that it will get into care homes and the vulnerable."

There are now 3,090 people in hospital receiving treatment for coronavirus, there were 3,097 when the nation went into lockdown on March 23. Last week there were 1,995 people in hospital.

Mr Hancock said yesterday hospital admissions in the North West were doubling every fortnight.

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The highest prevalence of the virus is among 18 to 24-year olds, but among anyone aged 65 and over has increased eight-fold since mid August to early September.

James Naismith, Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and a professor at the University of Oxford, said: “There are dire warnings that hospitals in the North of England will hit bed capacity.  It is hard to over state the risk that brings."

He pointed out that since the start of the pandemic there had been a "revolution" in the science and medicine used to fight Covid-19 so he expected hospital deaths to be much lower during the second wave.

He added: "If however, the hospital system overloads, then triage will operate, meaning choices will be who gets treated and who does not.

"Untreated severe Covid-19 is a significant killer.

"Overloading hospitals will have spillover into many other illnesses where a drop in care will also lead in time to deaths and disability. This overloading is the thing that I most fear."Will the government be forced to reintroduce shielding?

When lockdown was introduced back in March the government sent special information to all the millions of people who were at a high risk of Covid-19.

This list mainly applied to the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions.

The government brought shielding to an end over the summer, but now with cases rising fast they might be forced to act again.

Professor Lee said: "I would be very careful with shielding because when you shield someone there is quite a severe restriction on that person's life and it has a knock-on impact on social isolation, on loneliness on mental health.

"It can generate a lot of anxiety so being able to shield someone for many many months is difficult and hazardous.

"The best way to protect the most vulnerable in society is to get overall infection numbers down."

Professor Scally said it may be necessary to reintroduce shielding, but pointed out many people who were particularly vulnerable to the virus had already adapted their life to protect themselves as much as possible.