Covid: UK at 'tipping point similar to first wave of coronavirus', medical expert warns

The country is at a tipping point, England’s deputy chief medical officer has warned. Credit: PA

The country is at a tipping point similar to the first wave of coronavirus, but it can prevent history repeating itself, England's deputy chief medical officer has said. Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the best way to keep transmission low and stop the NHS being overwhelmed was for people with symptoms to self-isolate and get a test, and for people to wash their hands, wear face coverings and maintain social distancing. In a statement on Sunday, he added: “In our national fight against Covid-19, we are at a tipping point similar to where we were in March; but we can prevent history repeating itself if we all act now. “Earlier in the year, we were fighting a semi-invisible disease, about which we had little knowledge, and it seeded in the community at great speed. “Now we know where it is and how to tackle it – let’s grasp this opportunity and prevent history from repeating itself.” Prof Van-Tam said the country had much better testing capabilities, knew more about the disease, and had better treatments than during the first wave.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

His comments come a day before Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlines a new three-tiered system of restrictions with measures expected to force pubs and restaurants shut across the north of England. Areas in Northern England have been hit hard by new coronavirus infections, but leaders have criticised the planned measures, accusing the government of treating the region as "second-class" and did not rule out possible legal action. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has insisted the government is working closely with local leaders ahead of the measures being brought in. He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We have spent the weekend working with those local leaders. “I have spent the whole weekend talking to leaders from Merseyside, from Greater Manchester, from other parts of the country."

Mr Jenrick said local mayors and councils would be given more control over test and trace efforts and the government was working for the national testing infrastructure to "work in harmony" with local test and trace centres.

However Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham told Times Radio leaders in the North of England felt "powerless" to change anything and added the test and trace system had been "failing" all year. Mr Burnham said: “We are powerless to change that, a system that’s not working for us and then the government comes along and asks to put us under more restrictions, its not acceptable for us to be left in this position.” Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, said local leaers felt they were being told what do, rather "than being collaborated with or talked to."

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

“The rhetoric of this Prime Minister is about levelling up and what we are going to be witnessing in Liverpool, and I know, I’m quite happy to say I’ve been told, that Liverpool will be likely to be placed in tier three," he said. “That is going to have huge economic damage and damage that will take us back to the position this city was in in the 80s with large levels of unemployment, of people unemployed and it will set us back a long time.

“Let’s make it absolutely clear here, if this was down in the south east in London, it wouldn’t be happening, it simply wouldn’t be tolerated.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said Labour is looking at mechanisms to allow a vote on Tier 3 restricions in the North of England.

She told BBC's Andrew Marr show that the government needs to come forward with a package of financial support that enables people to comply with the health restrictions. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed that an estimated 224,000 people have the virus – and hospital and intensive care admissions from Covid are rising.

Prof Van-Tam warned more deaths will follow and the R number - the rate at which the virus is spreading from person to person - was well above one in every NHS region in England, suggesting “widespread transmission” across the country – not just the north.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the country can stop history repeating itself. Credit: PA

Scientists estimate that the doubling time in the UK for new infections is between eight and 16 days and is even faster in some areas, he added. Professor Peter Hornby, of the University of Oxford, said that hospitals in parts of northern England were already starting to come under pressure. “We have a doubling time of about eight to 15 days so it is not long before those ICU (intensive care unit) beds could be full and we could be in a really difficult situation," he told the Andrew Marr show. “So I am afraid we are going to have to make some very difficult choices and act very quickly.” When asked if the country faced a second national lockdown, he said: “I think that’s a possibility and we have to do what we can to avoid that at all costs.”