UK science advisers set to warn public on COVID-19 rates

Britain’s top medical and scientific advisers will tell the public on Monday that COVID-19 infection rates are going in the “wrong direction” amid expectations the government is preparing to announce new measures to control the pandemic.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance are scheduled to hold a televised briefing at 11 a.m. (1000 GMT) during which they will lay out scenarios for the spread of the disease.

“The trend in the U.K. is heading in the wrong direction and we are at a critical point in the pandemic,” Witty said in a statement released before the briefing. “We are looking at the data to see how to manage the spread of the virus ahead of a very challenging winter period.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled with ministers over the weekend to discuss how the government will respond to the recent rise in cases, which has pushed infection rates to levels last seen in May. Later this week the government is expected to announce a slate of short-term restrictions that will act as a “circuit breaker” to slow the spread of the disease.

New coronavirus infections rose to a seven-day average of 3,679 on Sept. 17, the highest since May 11.

The government is hoping to keep that number from climbing back to the peak levels of early April, when more than 5,000 cases a day were being reported.

While death rates have remained relatively low so far, public health officials warn that deaths are likely to rise in coming weeks.

The U.K. reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths a day last week, compared with a peak of 942 on April 10.

The government last week imposed tighter restrictions on communities in northeastern England, where the infection rate first began to rise. Bars and restaurants in those areas must now close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and people are prohibited from socializing with individuals from other households.

The rise in infection rates comes as lawmakers across the political spectrum criticize the government’s testing program. While government ministers tout the record numbers of tests being performed, there are widespread reports of people having to travel hundreds of miles for tests and tests being voided because it is taking labs too long to process them.

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