Matt Hancock has confirmed the government is considering closing England’s pubs by the weekend as its chief medical officer and top scientist issued a grim warning for the UK.
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Valance and Prof Chris Whitty today announced the UK is facing 50,000 Covid cases a day by the middle of October – unless the government takes urgent action now.
A surge in infections will be followed by a surge in hospital admissions and deaths, Whitty and Valance said during this morning’s coronavirus briefing.
“This is not someone else’s problem,” said Whitty, pointing out that the virus is spreading across all age groups and not just among younger people.
In the briefing the pair stated that infection rates are doubling every seven days and that the UK is on course for 50,000 new cases every day by mid-October. The result of that would be “200-plus deaths per day” by the middle of November.
‘We will be absolutely clear’ – Hancock
The prime minister spent the weekend at Downing Street with ministers and officials trying to devise a strategy and plan to effectively respond to the rising numbers of cases.
Asked on ITV’s This Morning programme whether this could see pub landlords being told to close by the weekend, the health secretary replied: “We will be absolutely clear about the changes we need to make in the very, very near future.”
Hancock added: “It’s not a no, and it’s not a yes.”
Pubs in England reopened at 6am on July 4 after a memorable plea by the PM to the British public: “Let’s not blow it.”
In a statement to MPs this afternoon (Monday), Hancock told the Commons that statistics from the ONS suggests there are currently around 6,000 new infections per day and repeated the warning made by Whitty and Valance about that number reaching 50,000 per day by October.
PM’s absence at daily briefing
Among the questions raised on social media was the reason for prime minister’s absence from the coronavirus briefing with one Twitter user opining that “#LiarJohnson” is “hiding due to” problems arising from the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ campaign, the ‘back-to-the-office’ push for staff to stop working from home, and schools reopening.
The poster concluded by asking if Johnson was missing “due to an Italy trip?” making reference to reports of a sighting of the PM at an Italian airport.
Was the PM in Perugia?
La Repubbulica report that an Umbrian airport stated that Johnson landed in Perugia “on Friday 11 September at 2 pm” – testimony denied as “untrue” by Downing Street.
When asked if the PM was in Perugia in the past two weeks, transport secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News: “Not that I’m aware of. I think it’s mistaken, as far as I’m aware.”
In reporting what would have been a “secret trip” by the PM to Italy, both Repubblica and the Guardian remind readers of Johnson’s previous “undercover” visit to Perugia to attend one of Evgeny Lebedev’s legendary parties.
Johnson was then photographed at the airport “unescorted, and looking sleepy and drained, with his shirt out of trousers and his wrinkled attire, as if he had slept in those same clothes until a few hours before embarking a Ryanair flight to London Stansted Airport.”
While the Italian publication cites several witnesses confirming the PM’s presence in Perugia, along with the airport’s press release, Downing Street has dismissed the claims.
Its spokesman said: “This story is completely untrue. The prime minister has not travelled to Italy in recent months. Anyone who publishes these claims is repeating a falsehood.”
Lebedev is a Russian billionaire who owns the Independent newspaper and was recently made a member of the House of Lords by Boris Johnson.