The United Kingdom’s health minister has said novel coronavirus infections are accelerating across the country, with hospital admissions doubling every eight days, but refused to say whether another national lockdown would be imposed next month.
The UK 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.
Asked on Friday repeatedly by Sky News about the prospect of a second national lockdown next month, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that a lockdown was a last resort, but that the government would do whatever it takes 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.”
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.
Johnson has said he does not want a second lockdown and the government would do “everything in our power to prevent it”.
The UK recently introduced a rule of six, restricting social gatherings to six people. But critics have said this measure was inadequate, given more relaxed attitudes to social distancing in restaurants and pubs amid a government push to get encourage people to return to the office.
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, but that is still some way behind France and its more than 10,000 cases a day.
On Thursday, Britain recorded 21 deaths from the disease, taking the total under the government’s accounting method to 41,705.
The Financial Times reported that leading scientists advising the UK government have proposed a two-week national lockdown in October to try to tackle the growing number of cases.
“As schools will be closed for one week at half-term, adding an extra week to that will have limited impact on education,” said one scientist who is a member of Sage, confirming the body had considered the case for a national lockdown in October.
The newspaper earlier said the rise in positive case numbers was not the result of more testing, “rather it has coincided with an increase in the proportion of positive test results”.
Al Jazeera and news agencies