The coronavirus ‘is not out of control’ in Britain, Matt Hancock has claimed amid scientists warning the Government has lost its grip on spread of the disease.
Yesterday the UK recorded its highest number of daily Covid-19 cases since May after 2,988 were reported in just 24 hours.
The last time the UK’s caseload was this high was May 23 – 15 weeks ago – when 2,959 people tested positive.
Scientists said it’s beginning to look like the UK is ‘moving into a period of exponential growth’, and if that is the case, ‘we can expect further increases over coming weeks’.
But Health Secretary Mr Hancock tempered fears today and said cases were not out of control, while admitting cases were ‘concerning’ because ‘nobody wants a second wave’.
He said most of the new cases were among the under 25s, while pleading with them to continue social distancing to avoid passing the virus onto their grandparents.
Labour’s shadow health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth called the figures ‘deeply concerning and worrying’ and suggests there is a real increase in the prevelane of the coronavirus.
Scientists have previously said cases have risen over August as a result of increased testing in hotspots. But the data suggests the coronavirus is spreading among people more rapidly.
The UK recorded its highest number of daily Covid-19 cases since May after 2,988 were reported in just 24 hours
A further two people died after testing positive for the bug today, bringing the UK’s total death toll to 41,551
Speaking on LBC radio this morning, Mr Hancock said: ‘This rise in case we have seen in the last few days is concerning, and it’s concerning because we have seen a rise in cases in France, Spain and some other countries in Europe.
‘Nobody wants to see a second wave here. It just reinforces the point that people must follow the social distancing rules, they are so important.’
Asked by present Nick Ferrari if there was evidence that people in the UK were not following social distancing, Mr Hancock said: ‘We certainly see cases where they are not, then we take action.
‘For example in Bolton where numbers are the highest, we traced a lot of those cases back to an individual pub and we have taken action on those pub. The pub needed to close and sort the problem out.’
Mr Hancock said the most important point to get across was that the uptick in cases in the past few days have been in younger people under 25, ‘especially 17 to 21 year olds’.
There has been speculation that most new cases are found among poorer communities, where there is overcrowding in housing and people in key worker jobs, for example.
However, Mr Hancock said it was currently more frequent in ‘affluent areas’.
‘The message to younger people, is even though you are at a lower risk of dying from the coronavirus, you can still have really serious consequences,’ he added.
‘They can get very, very ill. And secondly it inevitably leads to older people catching it. So don’t infect your grandparents.
‘People six months on are still ill, that’s prevalent among that younger population. And also, you can infect other people.’
As Government data has shown a rising number of cases in recent weeks, scientists have suggested it comes down to more testing in England’s hardest hit locations.
The vast majority of new cases were missed at the height of the UK outbreak because testing was limited to hospitals, whereas now anyone is able to get a test.
However now, data suggests of those people being tested, a higher proportion are getting a positive result – called the test positivity rate.
Asked whether the record numbers of cases were due to testing, Mr Hancock said: ‘There is a degree of that.
‘But we also check what we call the test positivity – so both the number of cases we find, but also the proportion of people who test positive. That is going up as well.’
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said he feared the outbreak was a ‘return to exponential growth’, and if so ‘we can expect further increases over coming weeks.’
He said yesterday: ‘Today’s reported number of cases is the largest new cases reported in a single day since May. This is especially concerning for a Sunday when report numbers are generally lower than most other days of the week.
‘Some of that increase may be because of catch up from delayed tests over the past few days due to the widely reported difficulties the UK testing service has faced dealing with the number of tests being requested.
‘Nevertheless this represents a marked increase in the 7 day rolling average of 1812 cases/day compared to 1244 a week ago and 1040 a week before that.’
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Labour’s shadow health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said yesterday’s caseload was ‘deeply concerning’ and ‘deeply worrying’.
He said: ‘It’s one days’ worth of data so we will have to see what the trend is. But that days’ worth of data is alarming, there is no question about it. It does suggest there is an increase in the virus.’
Mr Ashworth has called on Mr Hancock to go to parliament today to explain the testing ‘fiasco’ that has emerged in recent days.
People with coronavirus symptoms who try to book a test online have reported being told to drive three hours to reach their ‘nearest’ centre.
And some of them have had to drive past closer testing centres on their way to the farther ones because of a flaw in the Government’s booking system.
Test and trace boss Dido Harding installed a 75-mile limit on travelling to appointments on Friday after it was revealed some patients were being asked to drive almost 300 miles.
Mr Ashworth said: ‘I think the key ask of the government is, what is happening with testing? Because we’ve had all these stories in recent days of people trying to book a test, people who are ill, they are sick, they think they’ve got symptoms of Covid, and they’ve been told to travel miles and miles, sometimes over 100 miles to get to a testing centre. That is clearly unacceptable.
‘So we are asking the Government, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, to come to the commons quickly. Tell us what they think is happening with the infection rate today, and tell us what he is going to do to fix the fiasco in testing in recent days.’
The surge in cases has not been evident in hospitalisations or deaths in the UK.
On May 23, the last time daily new cases were as high as they are now, 220 people died from Covid-19. But yesterday’s death toll was significantly smaller. A further two people died after testing positive for the bug in the 28 days prior.
Professor Hunter said: ‘Fortunately, the daily reported numbers of deaths due to COVID-19 remain very low with a 7 day rolling average of just 7 deaths/day.
‘However, with the new approach to recording deaths it is difficult to be confident that there are timely statistics. It with be another two or even more weeks before we can really expect to see any impact on mortality figures.’