On Friday, the Sage advisory group said the UK’s reproduction number for COVID-19 is now between 0.9 and 1.1, with senior sources warning “more nationwide measures” may be needed. Last month, the Prime Minister all but ruled out a second nationwide lockdown, warning option was now akin to a “nuclear deterrent”. But some of the country’s largest cities are teetering on the brink of a new lockdown after a significant spike in coronavirus cases.
Birmingham is close to having restrictions imposed after the number of infections surged, while Manchester is already facing its own local lockdown.
Government experts have said although the rising R rate is a result of a handful of local outbreaks and not representative of the country as a whole, they warned the number of hospital admissions and deaths from coronavirus could also rise.
Scientists are worried the UK could soon follow the same path as countries like Spain, where the number of confirmed infections is rising at the quickest rate in Europe, with 142 cases per 100,000 people.
In Spain, the number of new daily cases has surged from 150 when lockdown restrictions were eased on June 21 to more than 3,000.
Boris Johnson is coming under increasing pressure to tighten nationwide lockdown measures
Britain is averaging around 11 cases per 100,000 people, but Public Health England has warned detections in the country increased from 5,763 to 6,418 in the week to Aug 16, up 11 per cent.
A senior Government source said: “If it doesn’t get contained it may be that some things that have been open, you need to think about whether measures need to be taken to reverse things.
“The strategy is to manage this through local outbreak management, but if it moves in the direction of Spain, then clearly you can see what’s happening there, and in France, people are making more nationwide measures. It depends on the trajectory, and how quickly we can get on top of outbreaks.”
Another source said: “We’re looking at a pretty bumpy autumn and winter and that’s going to go in the direction of increased cases and increased outbreaks.”
Professor Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics, at The Open University, said: “My overall feeling is that there is not a major cause for immediate concern about the national position on new infections and cases of COVID-19, but that we must continue to be very vigilant.”
But a leading Government expert has warned coronavirus will be present “forever” and people will likely need regular vaccinations against the deadly disease.
Sir Mark Walport, a former chief scientific adviser and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the pandemic would be controlled by a “global vaccination”.
However, he added coronavirus is not “going to be a disease like smallpox which could be eradicated by vaccination”.
Leicester was the first UK city to re-enter lockdown following a spike in coronavirus infections
The UK’s biggest cities were left deserted during the national lockdown
Sir Mark said: “This is a virus that is going to be with us forever in some form or another and almost certainly will require repeated vaccinations.
“So, a bit like flu, people will need re-vaccination at regular intervals.”
The expert also warned it is “possible” coronavirus could get “out of control” again, but added more targeted measures can now be imposed instead of a generic lockdown.
The comments from Sir Mark come after Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said he hopes the coronavirus pandemic will be over within two years.
There have been more than 323,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK
Speaking in Geneva on Friday, he said it took two years to overcome the Spanish flu in 1918 but with significant advances in technology, coronavirus could be stopped in a “shorter time”.
The WHO chief said: “In our situation now with more technology, and of course with more connectiveness, the virus has a better chance of spreading, it can move fast because we are more connected now.
“But at the same time we have also the technology to stop it and the knowledge to stop it.
“So we have a disadvantage of globalisation, closeness, connectedness but an advantage of better technology.
“We hope to finish this pandemic (in) less than two years.”