During an extraordinary press conference in which the PM announced planned reopenings for August 1 will be postponed for a fortnight, he admitted that COVID-19 was probably spreading in the community again.
He said: “Today, the ONS reports that the prevalence of the virus in the country is likely to be rising for the first time since May.”
Johnson also announced that face masks are to become mandatory in more indoor settings from August 8.
The announcement came as the government confirmed the R rate range across England, which is updated every Friday, had increased from 0.7-0.9 to 0.8-0.9.
The government has used R (reproduction) as one means to assess whether the epidemic is in decline. An R rate above 1 means the virus is spreading exponentially, with each contagious person infecting more than one other person. It is also an indication that hospitals and healthcare systems are more vulnerable.
The report states in a sober warning: “We are starting to see early indications that these values may be increasing. This is not yet reflected in these estimates because the data used to calculate R and growth rate reflect the situation from a few weeks ago.”
‘I’m really really sorry’
Announcing the changes, Johnson said that despite progress being made in combating Covid-19, the UK cannot think it is exempt from a rise in cases.
“As we see these rises around the world, we can’t fool ourselves that we are exempt. We must be willing to react to the first signs of trouble;” he said.
“With those numbers creeping up, our assessment is that we should squeeze that brake pedal… in order to keep the virus under control.
“I know that the steps we are taking will be a real blow to many people, to everyone whose wedding plans have been disrupted or who cannot now celebrate Eid in the way that they would wish.
“And I’m really, really sorry about that but we cannot simply take the risk.”
Local lockdown in the North
The significant scaling back of lockdown easing came less than 24 hours after the government imposed new restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus across Greater Manchester and parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire.
Government guidance published on Friday states that it will be against the law for people from different households (so, those who do not live together) to meet in a private home or garden, unless they are part of a support bubble.
The guidance states that up to two households, or six people from any number of households, are allowed to meet outdoors – but not in people’s gardens. It says people should continue to socially distance from anyone they do not live with and avoid physical contact.
The government has been widely criticised for the way the new local lockdowns were revealed.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said there had been “poor communication” from the Government
Muslim leaders also slammed the Government for the “shockingly short notice”, which was given the night before the Islamic festival of Eid.
Fears virus is spreading in England
Johnson said that roughly 1 in 1500 people now had the virus at any one time, compared to 1 in 1800 on the 15th July and 1 in 2000 on the 2nd of July.
The ONS has also said there are now 4,900 new infections every day, up from 2,000 per day at the end of June.
The figures are published by the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
A growth rate between minus 1% to minus 4% means the number of new infections is shrinking by between 1% to 4% every day, the report said.
You can see the regional breakdown of the r rate range below, which shows it is increasing in the South West and North West.
Dr Daniel Lawson, Lecturer in Statistical Science, School of Mathematics, University of Bristol, cautioned that the UK was now approaching a tipping point in its response to the pandemic. Dr Daniel Lawson, Lecturer in Statistical Science, School of Mathematics, University of Bristol, said:
“Decisions must be made in the face of this uncertainty, such as the announcement that the UK is pausing easing. Evidence from Europe implies that we should take the apparent increase seriously, as acting too late can make lockdowns longer and increase mortality.
“The UK is clearly close to the tipping point in which the infection grows. Whether local lockdowns and other actions are enough is as-yet unknown. We should be prepared for further rapid action to prevent the infection from getting out of control again.”
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