Britain was on Friday considering whether to impose a second national lockdown, after new COVID-19 cases almost doubled to 6,000 per day, hospital admissions rose and infection rates soared across parts of northern England and London.
The United Kingdom has reported the fifth largest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.
Asked if a second national lockdown was on the cards, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said hospital admissions were doubling every eight days but that a crucial estimate modelled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) would be key.
Its model pointed to about 6,000 new cases a day in England in the week leading to September 10, up from 3,200 cases per day in the previous week, with the North West and London seen as hotspots.
“There is evidence of higher infection rates in the North West and London”, the ONS said.
As those figures were published, Britain imposed new COVID regulations on the North West, Midlands and West Yorkshire starting on Tuesday.
Countries around the world where COVID-19 cases are on the rise are similarly tightening rules, and Israel on Friday announced a second nationwide lockdown.
Asked by Sky News about the prospect of a second national lockdown next month, Hancock said a lockdown was a last resort but that the government would do whatever it took to tackle the virus.
“The number of people in hospital is doubling every eight days or so … we will do what it takes to keep people safe”, Hancock said. “We keep these things under review”.
Asked about a second lockdown, he said: “I can’t give you that answer now.”
COVID-19 cases started to rise again in Britain in September, with between 3,000 and 4,000 positive tests recorded daily in the last week.
This is still some way behind France, which is seeing more than 10,000 new cases a day.
On Thursday, Britain recorded 21 deaths from the disease, taking the total under the government’s accounting method to 41,705. Key statistics on the prevalence of the virus are due later on Friday.
More than 10 million people in the United Kingdom are already in local lockdown.
“COVID-19 infection rates have increased in most regions, particularly the North West and London”, the ONS said. “It is likely that infection rates in all other regions have also increased except the South West and West Midlands”.
The ONS said there had been clear evidence of an increase in the number of people testing positive aged 2 to 11 years, 17 to 24 years and 25 to 34 years.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticised by opposition politicians for his initial response to the outbreak and the government has struggled to ensure sufficient testing in recent weeks.
Asked by LBC radio why the testing system was such a “shambles”, Hancock said Dido Harding, who is in charge of the system, had done an “an extraordinary job.”