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UK public warned to get serious as COVID alarm bells ring

England is on track for about 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by mid-October and a surging death toll unless the public gets serious about preventive action, top UK advisers warned on Monday.

Rates of infection in England are replicating the strong resurgence of COVID-19 seen in France and Spain, roughly doubling every seven days, government chief medical officer Chris Whitty said.

"We are seeing a rate of increase across the great majority of the country," he told a media briefing, urging the public to respect stricter guidelines on social distancing.

"This is not someone else's problem. It's all of our problem."

The briefing previewed an announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday detailing government action to flatten the exponential coronavirus curve heading in to winter, when regular respiratory diseases typically spike.

Steps under consideration reportedly include closing down pubs in England again from this weekend, after widely shared pictures of young revellers out in force in British cities, and the government says another full national lockdown might be necessary.

"The virus is spreading. We are at a tipping point," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament, adding: "We must all play our part in stopping the spread".

Almost 42,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have died in Britain, the worst death toll from the pandemic in Europe. 

After a summer lull -- when the government urged the public to frequent pubs and restaurants -- cases have been rising rapidly to reach some 6,000 daily, according to one survey by government statisticians.

Second wave

Johnson last week said Britain was already seeing a second wave of Covid-19 -- in line with parts of Europe -- and the government introduced localised restrictions for millions across northwest, northern and central England.

People in England who refuse to self-isolate to stop the spread of coronavirus could face fines of up to £10,000 ($13,000, 11,000 euros) under tough new regulations.

Johnson said that from September 28, people will be legally obliged to self-isolate if they test positive or are told to by the National Health Service (NHS) tracing programme.

Whitty said it was essential for the public to play its part in preventing the NHS being overwhelmed in the colder months.

"We are in a bad sense literally turning a corner, although only relatively recently. At this point the seasons are against us," he said at the briefing, alongside chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance.

Vallance said that on current trends, the daily count of cases will reach about 50,000 on October 13, and a month later exceed 200 deaths every day.

Whitty said "science in due course will ride to our rescue" with a successful vaccine but over the next six months, "if we don't change course, the virus will take off".

United kingdom

The UK government in London controls health policy for England but the sector is a devolved issue for the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That has led to differing approaches to tackling the virus. Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she hoped for "four-nation alignment" on next steps.

But she told a daily briefing in Edinburgh that "if necessary, it will have to happen without that".

The government in Cardiff meanwhile announced that three more areas of south Wales would be placed under local lockdown.

Johnson on Monday held talks with Sturgeon and the leaders of Wales and Northern Ireland, following a weekend of meetings with his cabinet along with Whitty and Vallance.

Hancock said the prime minister wanted "to make sure that, wherever possible, we are united in our efforts to drive this virus down".

The health chief unveiled new financial help for low-income people who are forced to self-isolate, and eased restrictions in lockdown areas for those such as grandparents who look after children.

Topics: COVID-19 , Chris Whitty , Matt Hancock , Boris Johnson , National Health Service
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