There have been 52 new cases of covid-19 reported in Croydon in the first eight days of September, as the health minister today refused to rule out the possibility of a second nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the virus.
The figures published last night by Public Health England suggest that Croydon, like the rest of the country, is beginning to experience a second up-tick in coronavirus cases – just as the government has been encouraging the public to return to their workplaces, to go down the pub or to “eat out to help out”, and with children starting to go back to school.
In Croydon during the whole of August, there were 117 reported cases, according to PHE figures. And while the number of infections reported is still well below the peaks reached in March and April, in the first week of September, the seven-day average number of cases in Croydon reached 8.7 – the highest rate since mid-May.
Yesterday, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said coronavirus must be taken very seriously again, after figures released on Sunday and on Monday showed close to 3,000 new cases nationally of people being infected with the deadly virus. The 2,988 reported on Sunday was the largest daily figure since May.
Meanwhile, the government’s promised track and trace system and smartphone app remain of questionable merit and unproven, and testing for the virus is not as widely available as had been promised.
Responding to the latest, rising positive test figures, Prof Van-Tam said “It’s of great concern.
“We’ve been able to relax a bit over the summer, the disease levels have been really quite low in the UK through the summer but these latest figures really show us that much as people might like to say ‘oh well it’s gone away’ – this hasn’t gone away.
“And if we’re not careful, if we don’t take this incredibly seriously from this point in we’re going to have a bumpy ride over the next few months.”
Since early July, when the national lockdown restrictions began to be relaxed, the government has applied lockdowns locally, in areas which appear to be covid “hot spots”, including Leicester and towns around Greater Manchester.
But from next week, gatherings of more than six people will be made illegal, though the guidance from the government is at times conflicting and contradictory.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said that banning gatherings of more than six people will make social distancing “easier for police to enforce”.
Fines for those who flout the rules – which do not apply to work or education settings, or for weddings and funerals – will start at £100 but could go up to £3,200 for repeated non-compliance.
Hancock said, “We’re making this change to make [the rules] super simple. You can’t have more than six people in social settings, except in limited exemptions like weddings.”
During a round of interviews on morning radio news shows, Hancock also refused to rule out a return to a nationwide lockdown. “I wouldn’t make a vow like that,” he said. “You wouldn’t expect me to – I am the health secretary in the middle of a pandemic where we are trying to keep the country safe.
“Our goal is to avoid having to do anything more drastic by people following the rules.”
Yet Hancock maintained the government line that it is still safe for people to return to work because “we have Covid-secure offices”.
According to Hancock, workplaces “are under health and safety legislation and businesses are legally obliged to follow health and safety legislation.
“All of our evidence is that the vast majority of the transmission that we are seeing is essentially in social circumstances, not at work,” Hancock said. Because the interview was on radio, it was impossible to tell whether he said this while managing to keep a straigh face.
“We have got to protect livelihoods through this crisis as well as lives and the strategy is to protect education, to protect work, we are therefore bringing in tighter rules on social engagement because that’s where we are seeing the majority of the transmission.”
There is mounting concern among teachers and parents that the reopening of schools in the past week may also prompt the further spread of infection. Some figures suggest that more than 350 schools across the whole of the country have had coronavirus cases reported so far, including 205 in England, where children only went back to school a week ago.
There are no reports, though, of schools in Croydon, or London, having any cases of covid-19 – which some suggest is a reflection not of the absence of coronavirus in schools, but of the lack of testing available in the capital.
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