UK Covid surge surpasses spring peak as lockdown looms

UK Covid surge surpasses spring peak as lockdown choices loom

The nation’s scientists have said that an apparently more contagious variant of the virus is driving the rise in cases

People walk past a roadside public health information sign, amidst the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, in London. Credit: Reuters Photo

About half of England is under the nation’s strictest lockdown measures, and people have been ordered to stay at home, but the coronavirus is still spreading at an alarming rate. Hospitals are treating more patients than at any time during the pandemic, the number of new infections has set a daily record and there is a growing debate about allowing tens of thousands of students to return to classrooms after the holiday break.

The nation’s scientists have said that an apparently more contagious variant of the virus is driving the rise in cases and, with severe restrictions already imposed on more than 48 million people, it remains unclear what other tools the government has at its disposal to get the outbreak under control.

There were 41,385 new lab-confirmed cases reported Monday, the highest figure yet on a single day. The National Health Service said there were now over 20,000 people in English hospitals, more than at the peak of the pandemic in April.

With the government scheduled to meet to evaluate its restrictions Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under pressure to impose another national lockdown and move students to remote learning.

Some hope to see the daily caseload drop as the restrictions imposed on London and southern and eastern England around Christmas begin to have an effect.

But a potent combination of a new strain of the virus, an imminent return to schools and a measure that allowed people in lower-risk areas to meet indoors on Christmas Day has raised fears that worse could come in the new year.

The British government has turned to a now familiar arsenal of tools to keep the variant in check, increasing restrictions on movement, shuttering businesses and limiting the number of people allowed to gather.

Around 200,000 people are getting their first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine every week. With the approval of a vaccine from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford expected in coming days, the number of doses available is likely to expand drastically.

There is no evidence that the vaccines are any less effective against the variant of the virus spreading in Britain, and they remain the best chance for the country to break the back of the current wave of infection.