Government facing calls to tighten Covid restrictions as deaths hit their highest level since May

Latest figures from government scientific advisers are ‘utterly bleak’, according to reports
Sgconlaw/CC BY-SA 3.0

By John Johnston

28 Oct 2020

Boris Johnson has come under fresh pressure to introduce tougher lockdown restrictions after the UK's death toll reached its highest level since May.

Official figures showed coronavirus deaths had reached their highest level in five months with a further 367 fatalities recorded on Tuesday alongside 23,000 new infections.

It comes as new reports claim Downing Street is preparing for a second wave of the virus which could be deadlier than the first, with senior scientific advisers calling for an urgent tightening of restrictions to stop the NHS becoming overwhelmed.

According to The Telegraph, internal analysis produced by the government's scientific advisory group, Sage, has shown deaths could peak at a lower level than the first wave of infections but remain at that level for weeks or months

And the paper claims the figures have prompted chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance to urge the prime minister to toughen restrictions ahead of winter.

The death toll surpasses estimates presented by Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty during a TV address in September where the pair said rising coronavirus infections put the UK on track to hit a 200-a-day death toll by mid-November.

The Sun reports the new analysis seen by No.10 now predicts that as many as 25,000 people could be hospitalised with the virus by the end of November, putting admissions higher than at the peak of the outbreak in Spring.

A government source told the paper the "latest Sage numbers are utterly bleak".

The stark figures come just days after a spokesperson for the prime minister said there was an "ambition" for families to spend Christmas together, with Johnson "hopeful" that "some aspects of our lives" could be back to normal over the festive period.

But responding to the surge in cases, environment secretary George Eustice told Sky News it was "too early" to say what lockdown restrictions might look like by December.

"The prime minister has been very clear, as we all are, that we want people to celebrate Christmas in a way that is as close to normal as possible," he said.

"But it is too early to be able to say exactly what the situation will be come Christmas, and exactly what different parts of the country will or will not be able to do.

"Obviously checking the spread of this virus is paramount, but alongside that we want people to live their lives as close to normal as possible, including at Christmas which is an incredibly important time for families."

Downing Street has already come under pressure to revise its three tier lockdown system following anger from Conservative MPs in the north of England who called for Johnson to set out a "clear roadmap" out of lockdown.

But Eustice said the government believed they had the "right approach" to tackling the virus, saying they would not rule out taking further measures if infections continued to rise.

"We think that's the right approach and that is the approach we are going to stick to," he said.

"The prime minister and the Health Secretary have said all along that we keep all options open.

"This is a dynamic disease, a fast moving situation, we have to monitor things very closely and that is why we can never rule anything out but we think we have the right approach for now."

Public Health England's medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle said: "We continue to see the trend in deaths rising, and it is likely this will continue for some time. Each day we see more people testing positive and hospital admissions increasing.

"Being seriously ill enough from the infection to need hospital admission can sadly lead to more Covid-related deaths."

John Johnson is a political reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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