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A Government Minister Says The UK Is Entering A "Period Of Particular Concern" Amid A Surge In Coronavirus Cases

Ministers have admitted the surge in cases is "very concerning"

4 min read

Robert Jenrick has warned the UK is entering a "period of particular concern" following a fresh surge in coronavirus cases.

The housing secretary said there was a "big burden" on people to follow social distancing rules or risk returning to stricter lockdown measures.

On Sunday, the UK recorded 2,988 new cases of the virus, the highest level since May, with a further 2,948 cases reported in the 24 hours up to 9am on Monday.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Jenrick insisted the government's local lockdown approach was keeping the virus at bay, but admitted the rise was "very concerning".

"The coronavirus is still with us so we all need to take great care. There is a concerning rise in cases and it reminds us that we have to keep following the guidance," he said.

"Although we are encouraged to return to the workplace to support jobs, cafes and so on, we need to do so responsibly."

He added: "As we approach the autumn and winter there is going to be even more responsibility on all of us to keep following the guidelines.

"Nobody wants to see a return to full national restrictions of the kind we had earlier this year."

His comments come after warnings from three of the government's scientific advisers that tougher restrictions might have to be reintroduced if cases continue to rise.

On Monday, England's deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, said the figures proved "people have relaxed too much".

"Where case numbers rise initially in the younger parts of the population they do in turn filter through and start to give elevated rates of disease and hospital admissions in the older age groups, and we know that then becomes a serious public health problem," he said.

"The fact that 17 to 21-year-olds are not becoming ill means they are lucky, but they also forget because the disease is not severe for them that they are potent spreaders."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock had already warned young people that flouting social distancing rules could lead to a second wave of the virus, saying: "Don't kill you gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on".

But Professor John Edmunds, who also sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the figures showed the virus was already "increasing exponentially".

"We can see the epidemic is taking off again. So I don't think we've hit that sweet spot where we've been able to control the epidemic and allow the economy to return to some sort of normality," he told ITV's Robert Peston.

"I'm quite worried that schools have just returned, cases are increasing now exponentially. They are increasing exponentially now, From a relatively low level. But they are increasing," he added.

"Schools have gone back. Universities are high risk. They are going back in the next couple of weeks.

"And the government is trying to get us back into work and back on the tube and buying our sandwich from Pret a Manger, and things like that. And that will have an epidemiological effect."

Meanwhile, Professor Andrew Hayward, of University College London said the virus could potentially "get out of hand" during the winter months as people return to work and begin socialising in larger number.

"Generally it is local outbreaks, but there is also very worrying national increases in cases, particularly in the last few days.

"I think that is what we are keeping a close eye on, the extent to which it moves away from these localised outbreaks to broader community transmission," he told the BBC's Today programme.

"What we saw in the last few days from the surveillance data is this worrying increase in cases, which can as we know from the first wave of the pandemic, potentially get out of hand if we don't be very serious about the control measures."

He added: "We very much have to balance our return to normality. The thing that concerns me is that we know respiratory infections spread most effectively in the winter, and would normally peak over the winter months.

"But we also know that everything in terms of returning to normality seems to be coming on itself very quickly.

"We have the return of schools, we've got the returning of universities, we are encouraging people to return to office work, this will increase the use of public transport, we are encouraging people to shop more, people are going to pubs and restaurants more and socialising more, there is more intergenerational mixing that there was before and shifting has lifted.

"So, what we are seeing is all of these restrictions are being lifted, which is of course really important for getting the economy back, at the same time of year as we expect to see high levels of transmission."

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