UK at critical point in pandemic | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 22, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:47 AM, September 22, 2020

UK at critical point in pandemic

Warns top medical adviser; US deaths near 200,000

England is on track for about 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by mid-October and a surging death toll unless the public gets serious about preventive action, top UK advisers warned yesterday.

Rates of infection in England are replicating the strong resurgence of Covid-19 seen in France and Spain, roughly doubling every seven days, the government's chief medical officer Chris Whitty told a media briefing.

"We are seeing a rate of increase across the great majority of the country," he said, urging the public to respect stricter guidelines on social distancing. "The trend in the UK is heading in the wrong direction and we are at a critical point in the pandemic."

"This is not someone else's problem. It's all of our problem."

The briefing previewed an expected announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week detailing government action to flatten the exponential coronavirus curve heading in to winter, when regular respiratory diseases typically spike.

Johnson last week said Britain was already seeing a second wave of Covid-19, and the government introduced new restrictions for millions of people across northwest, northern and central England.

People in England who refuse to self-isolate to stop the spread of coronavirus could face fines of up to £10,000 ($13,000, 11,000 euros) under tough new regulations announced Saturday.

Johnson said that from September 28, people will be legally obliged to self-isolate if they test positive or are told to by the National Health Service (NHS) tracing programme.

Whitty said it was essential for the public to play its part in preventing the NHS being overwhelmed in the colder months.

"We are in a bad sense literally turning a corner, although only relatively recently. At this point the seasons are against us," he said at the briefing, alongside the government's chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance.

Vallance said that on current trends, the daily count of cases will reach about 50,000 on October 13, and a month later exceed 200 deaths every day.

Almost 42,000 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Britain, the worst death toll from the pandemic in Europe.

After a summer lull, cases have been rising rapidly to more than 3,000 daily.

Whitty said "science in due course will ride to our rescue" with a successful vaccine but over the next six months, "if we don't change course, the virus will take off".

LOCKDOWN IN MADRID

A million people in and around the Spanish capital were under new "stay-at-home" orders yesterday to contain another coronavirus surge, as the US death toll neared 200,000.

But unlike other nations that are tightening curbs to battle outbreaks, India pressed ahead with its measures to kickstart its battered economy, reopening the Taj Mahal and some schools yesterday -- despite having the second-highest caseload in the world. 

The restrictions in Madrid will last for two weeks, affecting people living mainly in densely populated, low-income neighbourhoods who will be allowed only to travel for essential reasons such as work, medical care or taking children to school.

On Sunday, people took to the streets in some of the affected districts in protest against the new measures.

They sported placards reading "No to a class-based lockdown" or "They're destroying our district and now they're locking us up".

Global infections crossed 31 million, with more than 961,000 deaths.

LOWEST VIRUS ALERT

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved most of New Zealand to its lowest virus alert setting yesterday, saying the country was edging towards eliminating Covid-19.

The Pacific nation has recorded just 25 deaths in a population of five million and has been widely praised for its virus response, reports AFP.

In India, however, infections are surging with tens of thousands of new infections being reported every day.

But with the economy reeling, the government has gradually eased what was once among the world's strictest lockdowns -- despite warnings from some experts about the virus spreading across the vast nation of 1.3 billion people.

"So many people lost their job during the lockdown. People have suffered a lot and it is time the country opens up fully," said bank official Ayub Sheikh, 35, who was visiting the Taj Mahal with his wife and baby daughter.

In poorer, crisis-hit parts of the world, the pandemic has piled on even more suffering.

In Iraq tens of thousands of Shia Muslims participated in the annual mourning ceremonies of Ashura despite the government urging citizens to not attend large gatherings.

The United States remains the hardest-hit nation in the world, with more than 6.8 million cases and deaths approaching 200,000.

The pandemic has unleashed vast destruction on the world's biggest economy, with millions left jobless, and President Donald Trump facing intense criticism of his handling of the virus.

Trump has expressed confidence that a vaccine would be ready by October -- a claim contradicted by his administration's top health expert.

 

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