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UK warned against 'out of control' virus

By JULIAN SHEA | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-09-09 10:24
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People walk across London Bridge during rush hour, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, September 1, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Apology issued over difficulty in getting tested and quick expansion promised

One of the United Kingdom's leading disease specialists has warned that the spread of novel coronavirus risks "getting out of hand" as it undergoes a resurgence following the summer holiday period.

Although the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that overall weekly death numbers in England and Wales are continuing to fall, members of the scientific advisory group to the UK government, also known as SAGE, have warned against any form of complacency.

There have already been concentrated regional spikes in the East Midlands, Greater Manchester and now Caerphilly in Wales, and SAGE advisor Andrew Hayward, who is a professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at University College London, said the increase in cases "can potentially get out of hand if we don't be very serious about the control measures".

Factors such as people going back to work and the mass return to school after six months of limited opening could potentially increase the likelihood of problems.

"The key thing to do to reduce the risk of transmission is to reduce the number of people we come into contact with," he added.

Another SAGE member, John Edmunds from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told ITV News that the country was still some way off being in a position to allow more relaxed economic activity while also keeping the virus spread under control.

He said the hot summer weather, now over, had been helpful in controlling the spread but now the country was entering "a risky period" which would only become more risky as the seasons change.

"The epidemic continues to increase and then we have Christmas. And that is very difficult," he said.

"What is Christmas? Well it's meeting with your family very close. Restaurants and pubs and stuff like that. And it's all high risk. And it's all indoors. Indoors makes a difference."

With schools having returned and the university academic year about to start, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned younger people in particular to ensure they abide by social distancing rules to contain the spread of infection.

Recently France and Spain have witnessed increases in cases among young people, and last week one-third of all cases reported in England were from the 20 to 29 age group.

"The numbers have been going up. And we've seen in other countries where this leads, and it is not a good place," Hancock told BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat. "Now we're seeing a sharp rise in the number of people in hospital and the number of people who are dying in those countries.

"That hasn't happened here yet. And if people follow the social distancing rules, then we can stop that from happening here."

Meanwhile Sky News reported that as a further preventative measure, the maximum number of people allowed to gather at a house in England is to be drastically reduced.

Currently the figure is 30 but a government source said the new number was still being ironed out, and will be confirmed later.

Elsewhere, the director of testing for the National Health Service's Test and Trace scheme has tweeted a personal apology for people struggling to access the testing system.

"Can I please offer my heartfelt apologies to anyone who cannot get a COVID test at present," wrote Sarah-Jane Marsh.

"All of our testing sites have capacity, which is why they don't look overcrowded, it's our laboratory processing that is the critical pinch-point. We are doing all we can to expand quickly."

This follows reports of people struggling to access tests. David Lammy, the Labour member of Parliament for the constituency of Tottenham in North London, said a constituent had been told their nearest drive-in test center was more than 885 kilometers away in Northern Scotland.

"Countless people are being asked to travel 100s of miles to get a COVID-19 drive-through test. How can@BorisJohnson call this shambles 'world beating'?" he tweeted.

As the government's job retention scheme, which saw workers furloughed and have their salaries paid in part by the state, comes to an end, it has emerged that up to 3.5 billion pounds' worth ($4.6 billion) of pay-outs may have been made in error, or claimed fraudulently.

A senior official from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, or HMRC, told the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee that somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of pay-outs may have been incorrect.

"That will range from deliberate fraud through to error," said HMRC's permanent secretary, Jim Harra.

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