Covid-19: Daily reported UK cases rise by a quarter

The number of daily reported Covid-19 cases has risen by a quarter, according to the latest UK government figures.

There have been 6,178 coronavirus cases in the UK in the last 24 hours, up 1,252 since Tuesday, and 37 deaths.

Yvonne Doyle, Public Health England’s medical director, said it was “essential” the public followed the new measures brought in to curb the spread.

Tighter restrictions were announced across the UK on Tuesday, including a 22:00 closing time for pubs in England.

People are being told to work from home if they can, rules on face coverings have been expanded and the number of people allowed at weddings in England has been halved.

Hospitality venues in Scotland will also have to close early, but in Wales restrictions are limited to stopping alcohol sales at 22:00. Scotland and Northern Ireland have also gone further by limiting households from mixing indoors.

Meanwhile, Scotland recorded 486 new cases on Wednesday – the highest daily total since the pandemic began. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “a real cause for concern”, although she added that more people were being tested now than at the peak of the outbreak.

Reacting to the UK figures, Ms Doyle said: “New measures have been bought in to stop the spread of the virus and it is essential that you follow them.

“You should work from home if you can, must now wear a face covering in retail and hospitality settings, unless you are eating or drinking, and not be in a group larger than six people.

“We are testing much more than we were earlier on in the outbreak and our local Health Protection teams are working with local councils and Directors of Public Health to manage the increase.”

We should be very careful about reading too much into a single day’s rise – the jump of more than 1,000 is rapid and if repeated would mean daily case numbers doubling in less than a week. But figures can fluctuate from day to day.

Nonetheless, the UK has been warned it should be prepared for cases to continue growing. The figure for new cases is well below what was seen at the peak, which was estimated at 100,000 cases a day. We don’t know for sure, since a lack of testing meant the system was only picking up the tip of the iceberg then.

Clearly we are not picking up all the cases now – the evidence from last week’s surveillance report suggested perhaps only half were being identified by the testing programme.

What matters now is whether this scale of rise is repeated in the coming days and weeks – and how that translates into hospitalisations and deaths, both of which are going up too.

The data from Spain and France suggests that sharp rises can slow, and upward trends in admissions to hospital can be reversed.

But, make no mistake, the UK is entering a crucial point in the battle against the virus.

Earlier Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended the “balanced, targeted and proportionate” new coronavirus measures amid criticism from some scientists.

Prof John Edmunds, who advises the government, said they did not go “anywhere near far enough”, casting doubt on the changes of the R number – which measures how quickly the virus is spreading – being below one by Christmas.

“To slow the epidemic down will mean putting the brakes on very hard. I suspect we will see very stringent measures coming in through the UK but it will be too late,” he warned.

Prof Peter Openshaw, a fellow member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said a ban on households mixing indoors in England “ought to be instituted sooner rather than later”, adding, “If we wait two or three weeks, it will be too late.”

The government’s chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, also believes it is inevitable England will to have to follow Scotland’s latest move, according to the Times.

Another scientist, Prof Carl Heneghan, from Oxford University, said it was important to give the new measures time to work, maintain a clear and consistent public message and not to panic.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he supports the new measures, but during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions he accused Boris Johnson of “losing control” of the virus and of virus testing.

Mr Johnson defended the NHS Test and Trace system, saying it was allowing the government to to see “in granular detail” where the epidemic was breaking out.

The prime minister has warned the tighter measures announced this week could last up to six months.

The latest R estimate for the whole of the UK is between 1.1 and 1.4.

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What are the new rules?

In England:

  • Office workers are being told to work from home again if possible
  • Penalties for not wearing a mask or gathering in groups of more than six will increase to £200 on the first offence
  • From Thursday 24 September, all pubs, bars and restaurants will be restricted to table service only. Takeaways can continue
  • Also from Thursday, hospitality venues must close at 22:00 – which means shutting then, not calling for last orders
  • Face coverings must be worn by all taxi passengers from Wednesday
  • Retail staff and customers in indoor hospitality venues will have to wear masks from Thursday, except when seated at a table to eat or drink
  • From Monday 28 September, only 15 people will be able to attend a wedding or civil partnership ceremony, in groups of six. Funerals can still take place with up to 30 people
  • Also from 28 September, you can only play adult indoor sports in groups of no more than six
  • The planned return of spectators to sports venues will now not go ahead from 1 October

In Scotland:

  • People across Scotland are being advised not to visit other households indoors from Wednesday 23 September onwards. This will become law from Friday
  • There will be exceptions for those living alone, or alone with children, who form extended households. The rules will also not apply to couples who do not live together, to tradespeople or for the provision of informal childcare – such as by grandparents
  • From Friday, pubs and restaurants will have to close by 22:00
  • The first minister urged people not to book overseas travel for the October school holiday

In Wales:

  • Pubs, cafes and restaurants in Wales will have to stop serving alcohol at 22:00 from Thursday – and sales of alcohol from off-licences and supermarkets will also be stopped after that time
  • Pubs will also be limited to table service only

In Northern Ireland:

  • From now, people cannot meet anyone who they don’t live with inside their home
  • There are only limited exceptions.
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