Cases may hit 100k a day in winter but no restrictions in UK for now

LONDON: Britain's government has rejected calls to trigger "Plan B" measures to limit spiralling Covid-19 infection rates, even as it warned that cases could reach as many 100,000 a day over the winter months.

Healthcare leaders have urged the government to reinstate some restrictions to prevent the close-contact spread of the coronavirus, including the wearing of masks indoors, to ease pressure on hospitals.

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid played down concerns about the stubbornly high figures, which are nudging 50,000 new cases and 1,000 hospital admissions a day.

Mr Javid said winter, during which health services are typically stretched with other seasonal viruses such as influenza, "will pose the greatest threat to our recovery".

He told reporters: "Cases are rising. They could go yet as high as 100,000 a day. This pandemic is not over. We are looking closely at the data, but we won't be implementing our Plan B of contingency measures at this point.

"But we will be staying vigilant, preparing for all eventualities, while strengthening our vital defences that can help us fight back against the virus."

Mr Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation representing the state-run National Health Service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said hospitals were feeling severe pressure and action was needed before the cold weather starts in earnest.

Worsening Covid-19 rates were affecting key targets in areas such as waiting times in emergency departments, ambulance response times and treatment backlogs, he said.

"Is it better to act early and take measures which don't stop the economy working - but I recognise they are inconvenient for people - or do we wait for things to get worse and possibly risk having to take more severe measures?"

The government has faced criticism for reacting too slowly at key stages of the pandemic since early last year. Britain's death toll exceeds 139,000, second only to Russia in Europe.

Ministers lifted coronavirus restrictions in July as vaccination rates increased, hoping to kick-start a much-needed economic recovery.

The current rise in cases has been attributed to high numbers of infections in school-age children, who returned to the classroom last month after a disrupted year. - AFP