Further restrictions may be needed to slow the spread of Covid-19, expert warns

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14:18pm, Tue 06 Oct 2020
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Further restrictions including closing bars and restaurants could be needed to keep coronavirus under control while schools and universities remain open, an expert has warned.

Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said the most important measures were reducing contacts between households.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said that with schools and universities open ways needed to be found to reduce contacts in other areas, such as an “extended half term” or closing hospitality venues.

Prof Ferguson added: “So we are in a more difficult position, if we want to keep schools open we have to reduce contacts in other areas of society by more.

“You will have heard measures being discussed across society as a whole such as extended half terms where we try to reduce transmission for a concerted period.

“I think those measures should be considered.”

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Prof Ferguson – whose modelling led to the original nationwide lockdown – also said that contact tracing data showed that attending bars and restaurants was a risk factor in contracting the virus.

Closing venues should be considered in “hotspot” areas where case numbers are increasing but the risk of transmission from meeting people outside was low, he added.

Prof Ferguson said: “If people are sensible meeting outdoors, really the risk is quite low.

“I think the risk really comes from meeting indoors, in enclosed environments.

“Of course as the weather gets colder meeting outdoors is less appealing, people obviously do want to meet indoors but that’s where transmission happens unfortunately.”

Prof Ferguson also said that there was a risk of the NHS becoming overwhelmed with deaths, hospital admissions and beds occupied by Covid-19 patients doubling every two weeks.

He added: “But admissions to hospital, hospital beds occupied with Covid patients and deaths are all tracking cases, they are at a low level but they are basically doubling every two weeks and we just cannot have that continue indefinitely, the NHS will be overwhelmed again.”

His comments come after it emerged that thousands of positive coronavirus cases initially not recorded in England due to a technical glitch still needed to be reached.

Downing Street said that as of 9.30am Tuesday, 63% of the the almost 16,000 individuals concerned had been contacted by Test and Trace and a survey of their contacts completed following the data issues over the weekend.

Addressing the House of Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the technical problem with the system “that brings together” data from NHS test sites and tests processed by commercial firms “should never have happened” but he insisted the team had “acted swiftly to minimise its impact”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged the technical glitch that stopped almost 16,000 coronavirus cases being recorded in England should never have happened (House of Commons/PA) - (Copyright PA Wire)

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said problems with testing were “putting lives at risk” and that as many as 48,000 contacts may not have been traced due to the glitch.

The Department of Health dismissed reports of issues with phone lines hampering contact tracers’ efforts.

Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute, told Today that more needed to be done to encourage small laboratories to help increase testing capacity.

He added: “Of course we need the large laboratories, particularly for community testing.

“But small laboratories ramped up could provide, I think, up to 100,000 tests with much more efficient turnaround.

“But they need to be encouraged and supported.”

It comes amid rising cases across parts of England with the latest weekly infection figures showing that Manchester’s rate has soared, with 2,927 new cases recorded in the seven days to October 2 – the equivalent of 529.4 cases per 100,000 people.

Knowsley and Liverpool have the second and third highest rates, at 498.5 and 487.1 respectively.

Other areas recording big jumps in their seven-day rates include Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham and Leeds.

Sheffield’s rate shot up from 100.9 to 286.6 and figures from the University of Sheffield’s Covid-19 statistics web page showed nearly 500 students and staff had tested positive since the start of the autumn term last week.

Meanwhile, MPs will vote on Tuesday on the regulations which enforce the rule of six in England.

Boris Johnson has urged MPs to back the rule, with his official spokesman describing the ban on more than six people mixing as a “sensible and helpful” measure.

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