UK wants tighter COVID guidelines to avert new “disaster”, epidemiologist warns

© Reuters. A roadside sign displays a public health information message, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, near Oxford

By David Milliken and Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain’s government needs to bring in tighter coronavirus lockdown rules to avert a fresh wave of deaths from a new variant of the disease, a leading epidemiologist warned on Tuesday.

Britain reported 41,385 new COVID cases on Monday, the highest number since testing became widely available in the middle of 2020, and hospitals have more COVID patients than during the first wave of the pandemic in April.

“We are entering a very dangerous new phase of the pandemic, and we’re going to need decisive early national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February,” Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London, told the BBC.

“We’re really looking at a situation where we’re moving into near-lockdown,” he said.

More than 71,000 people in Britain have died within 28 days of a positive test for the disease.

Britain introduced a new level of tighter restrictions in parts of England on Dec. 19, shutting down non-essential retail and mostly banning people from meeting in person, because of a new variant of COVID that infected people more easily.

A week later it extended the restrictions to a larger area, covering almost half of England’s population. But the government has so far resisted reimposing a new nationwide lockdown.

Asked about Hayward’s concerns, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters the government was keeping measures under constant review.

Schools in England are due to reopen for many pupils on Jan. 4. Hayward said that from a purely epidemiological point of view it would make sense to keep them closed longer, but difficulties poorer pupils faced learning online meant curbs on other areas of public life might be preferable.

Authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own policies on schools and measures to combat COVID.

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