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Tuesday, Dec 01, 2020

Coronavirus could already have infected HALF the British population and been spreading in the UK since JANUARY, Oxford University study claims - as official death toll jumps record 87 in a day to 422 and confirmed cases leap by 1,427

Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford, led a study into the infection rate of Covid-19. Today the UK's coronavirus death toll rose to 422. while there have been 8,077 British cases reported. Modelling by Oxford's Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease group suggests Covid-19 first reached the UK by mid-January. Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
The coronavirus could have infected as much as half of the population of the United Kingdom, according to researchers at the University of Oxford - as the official death toll jumps a record 87 in one day to 422 and confirmed cases leap by 1,427.

The new model from Oxford University suggests the virus was circulating in the UK by mid-January, around two weeks before the first reported case and a month before the first reported death.

This means it could have had enough time to have spread widely, with many Britons acquiring immunity. Sunetra Gupta, a professor of theoretical epidemiology who led the study, said testing was needed to assess the theory.

‘We need immediately to begin large-scale serological surveys – antibody testing – to assess what stage of the epidemic we are in now,’ she said.


It comes after 87 more patients died overnight in England, including 21 at the one NHS trust in London. Scotland also announced two fatalities, while Wales and Northern Ireland confirmed another death.

In contrast, fifty-four infected Brits died the day before. The UK's death toll has risen almost six-fold in the space of a week, with just 71 fatalities recorded last Tuesday.

Britain also saw a record spike in cases today, with 1,427 more patients known to have caught the virus as the total number of infected Britons surpassed 8,000.

But the true size of the outbreak is being hidden because of the Government's controversial decision to only test patients in hospital. The true size of the outbreak is likely to be closer to the 400,000 mark.

Police officers were today forced to break up barbecues being held in different parts of the UK as Brits flouted new draconian powers to disperse crowds of more than two to halt the spread of coronavirus.

In shocking footage, Shepherd's Bush officers were forced to use a megaphone to disperse large crowds of people sunbathing on the green, clearly not abiding by the rules of the lockdown set by the Prime Minister.

From a police van, an officer said: 'You can't stay on the green, can you all go home. Can you all go home please this is not a holiday, it's a lockdown, which means you don't just come here and sunbathe. Please just leave.'

Health Secretary Matt Hancock today launched a drive for a 250,000 strong 'volunteer army' to boost the NHS and stop it being swamped amid the coronavirus crisis.

He said he wanted helpers to come forward to bolster local services - as he also revealed that a new hospital, the NHS Nightingale, is being created at the Excel centre in London.

The Oxford university research offers a contrasting view on the disease to the study that is informing government policy. It was carried out by experts at Imperial College London.

‘I am surprised that there has been such unqualified acceptance of the Imperial model,’ Professor Gupta told the Financial Times.

The Imperial study has led to the Government imposing the extraordinary shutdown on the basis that, without such rules, the disease could claim up to 250,000 lives.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said home is now the 'front line' in the fight against coronavirus, as he urged people to come together to reduce the number of people in the UK who will die from the spread of the infection.

But he issued a stark warning, saying stricter measures introduced by the Prime Minister on Monday were not advice but rules that must be followed.

He told MPs in the Commons: 'The spread of coronavirus is rapidly accelerating across the world and in the UK.

'The actions we took yesterday are not actions that any UK government would want to take but they are absolutely necessary. Our instruction is simple: stay at home.'

He said people should only be leaving their home for four reasons - shopping for essentials such as food and medicine, one form of exercise per day, medical need or to provide care to a vulnerable person, and travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

Mr Hancock said: 'These measures are not advice, they are rules and will be enforced including by the police, with fines starting at £30 up to unlimited fines for non-compliance.'

He continued: 'We are engaged in a great national effort to beat this virus, everybody now has it in their power to save lives and protect the NHS. Home is now the front line.

'In this national effort, working together, we can defeat this disease, everyone has a part to play.'

His comments come as some trains on London's Tube network were crowded again this morning despite Boris Johnson placing the UK on a lockdown.

The Prime Minister ordered people only to leave their homes for 'very limited purposes', banned public gatherings of more than two people and ordered the closure of non-essential shops.

But police chiefs warned of phone lines being inundated with calls last night with questions about what movements are still permitted, while MPs also called for answers.

Pictures on social media suggested that many people in the capital were continuing to use the Underground to travel around, prompting a desperate plea from London Mayor Sadiq Khan: 'I cannot say this more strongly: we must stop all non-essential use of public transport now. Ignoring these rules means more lives lost.'

Senior police figures have warned that the stringent measures, similar to those already in place in Italy, will be 'challenging' with forces across the UK having far fewer officers to call upon than authorities in Rome - with shortages of up to 20,000 officers.

Mr Apter told the BBC today: It's going to be really tough and what we have to get across to the public is that as far as policing is concerned it is not business as usual.

'The normal things my colleagues, officers, would normally go to, we need to decide what it is we cannot go to any more.

'Because dealing with this partial lock-down is going to put incredible amounts of pressure on my colleagues - and they are up for this.'

His warning came after former GMP chief constable Sir Peter Fahy contrasted the police numbers in Italy with those here.

Sir Peter told BBC Breakfast: 'If you compare us to Italy, we have about half the number of police officers that they have.

'We don't have a paramilitary police force like the Carabinieri. Our police officers are already very stretched.

'I think the Government needs to continue to close down businesses and other parts of operations to limit the places that people can be going, but absolutely at the same time reinforcing the message and clarifying as far as possible all those individual issues.

'We don't really want 43 separate police forces in England and Wales interpreting this in different ways and individual officers being faced with real dilemmas about whether to allow this or not to allow it.'

'It will require a huge amount of public support, public acceptance and public compliance because if officers are going to be dispersing groups they are going to be asking about things like 'is there a power of arrest?' and that will then tie up more and more officers.

So, really, there is no way that this can be achieved through enforcement alone.

orders to stay at home.

Travellers in the capital could not stick to social distancing on their Tube journey to work this morning, hours after the Prime Minister warned all but essential workers to stay at home.

Mr Khan demanded that employers enable their staff to work from home 'unless it's absolutely necessary', adding: 'Ignoring these rules means more lives lost. Some of the people on the Tube yesterday and today are not essential workers, I can tell you that'. He added that many packed on to trains appeared to be heading to building sites.

He added that if people continue to flout the rules police should check ID of workers and use their powers to disperse crowds, which include issuing fines or even arresting those who should be in self-isolation.

Many people were nose-to-nose with people on the Tube, trains and buses as well as platforms despite being told to be two metres apart to avoid catching coronavirus, which has claimed 335 lives so far.

The government has come under pressure to urgently clarify who it counts as a 'key worker' after Britons woke up in a state of confusion over who is permitted to leave home.

Many construction workers are operating in environments where social distancing is impossible, leaving them fearful of spreading the deadly disease which has killed 335 and infected over 6,000.

Labourers on lunch break at a building site in Battersea, London, were even pictured squeezed around canteen tables just inches from each other.

Some said they felt compelled to come in for fear of losing their jobs, with one telling MailOnline: 'It's mad that we have to carry on as normal while everyone at the office sits at home.'

As well as builders, non-essential delivery drivers were also on the roads today, with high street chains John Lewis, H&M, Debenhams and Boux Avenue all maintaining normal services.

Last night in his historic address to the nation, Boris Johnson ordered the public to stay at home unless travelling to work was 'absolutely necessary'.

It was wrapped into an emergency package of draconian measures to keep people indoors to stem the tide of coronavirus infection, which threatens to overwhelm the NHS.

But the wriggle room left by the Prime Minister over exactly who was allowed to travel was seized upon by many workers who continued to commute to their jobs this morning.

Responding to claims that details of the lockdown were 'murky', Michael Gove, the minister for the cabinet office, said: 'It is the case that construction should continue on sites.

'People should obviously exercise sensitivity and common sense and follow social distancing measures. But construction sites carried out in the open air can continue'.

He also confirmed that plumbers could continue to carry out emergency repair jobs so long as they observed the two-metre distancing policy.

Yet images from the first day of lockdown showed construction staff huddling together on sites, brazenly flouting social distancing guidelines.

Matt Hancock today launched a drive for a 250,000 strong 'volunteer army' to boost the NHS and stop it being swamped amid the coronavirus crisis.

The Health Secretary said he wanted helpers to come forward to bolster local services - as he announced that nearly 12,000 former medical staff had returned to increase capacity in the face of the disease.

Mr Hancock also revealed that a new temporary hospital, NHS Nightingale, at the Excel centre in London will be opened to the first patients next week.

The news came as Mr Hancock held a press conference in Downing Street - although the questions were posed over video link as part of new government guidelines to stop spread.

Mr Hancock said his 'heart goes out' to families of those who had died, after it was announced that the UK's toll had jumped to 422 in the biggest daily rise yet.

The Cabinet minister said of the government's draconian new lockdown: 'They are not requests, they are rules… everyone has a responsibility to follow those rules and where possible stay at home.'

Unveiling the 'NHS Volunteers' drive, Mr Hancock said: 'We are seeking a quarter of a million volunteers, people in good health to help the NHS, for shopping, for the delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielding to protect their own health.'

He said 11,788 recently retired NHS staff had responded to the appeal from the government to return to the service.

They included 2,660 doctors, more than 2,500 pharmacists and other staff and 6,147 nurses.

'I pay tribute to each and every one of those who is returning to the NHS at its hour of need,' Mr Hancock said.

Some 5,500 final-year medics and 18,700 final-year student nurses would 'move to the frontline' next week.

Mr Hancock said the new makeshift hospital at the ExCel centre would be called the NHS Nightingale Hospital and would be open by next week.

He said it would have two wards and have a capacity for 4,000 people. It is understood it will be up and running by Saturday 4th April.

He said: ‘We will next week open a new hospital, a temporary hospital.

'The NHS Nightingale hospital will comprise two wards each of 2,000 people.

‘With the help of the military and with NHS clinicians we will make sure we have the capacity we need so that everyone can get the support they need.

‘But no matter how big we grow the NHS unless we slow the spread of this virus then as we have seen those numbers will continue to rise and that is why it is so important everyone follows the advice and stays at home.’

Mr Hancock also delivered a stinging rebuke to the London Mayor saying the underground system should be running 'in full' so essential workers do not have to be close together.

The jibe came after another day of chaotic scenes in the capital where 'health hazard' carriages were rammed despite the unprecedented shutdown of British society.

But Mr Khan has blamed commuters for flouting a ban on 'all non-essential travel' and urged people to avoid rush hour 'to save lives' - claiming he does not have enough staff to return services to normal.

Mr Hancock went on the attack as he was asked at a Downing Street press conference this evening why NHS staff and other key workers were being forced to put themselves at risk on crowded transport.

He said: 'When it comes to the Tube, the first and the best answer is that Transport for London should have the Tube running in full so that people travelling on the tube are spaced out and can be further apart - obeying the two-metre rule wherever possible.

'And there is no good reason in the information that I've seen that the current levels of tube provision should be as low as they are. We should have more tube trains running.'

The chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation last night cast doubt on officers' ability to deal with Boris Johnson's lockdown - meaning the Army may need to help enforce the strict new coronavirus measures.

In his address to the nation Mr Johnson said if people do not follow the new rules officers 'will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings'.

Police will be able to fine people £30 if they ignore the rules and these on-the-spot fines will be 'ramped up' if there is widespread flouting, the government has said.

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said the lockdown plans would be 'very difficult' and he was already seeing 'large amounts of sickness' among officers across London.

He told the BBC: 'As you quite rightly point out, we haven't seen one of the 24,000 officers that we lost across the country.

'So it will be very, very challenging and very difficult for us with what's put in front of us.

'But we don't actually know what is being put in front of us yet other than we're going to be asked to disperse crowds, it's going to be a real, real challenge.'

In his address to the nation Mr Johnson said you will be allowed to leave your home for the four very limited reasons:

Mr Marsh told Sky News that he believed the Army could be drafted should police numbers fall due to illness.

He said: 'The Army are already in place on the outskirts of London and across the country. And I don't doubt again for one minute that they will be called if needed.

'Because if we start losing large numbers in policing terms, through isolation and actually having Covid-19, then they are going to step in and support us in some way.

'It could be tailored in quite quickly and I would save that everything is on the table.'

The Prime Minister intervened with the new restrictions after pictures emerged this week showing people taking advantage of the warm weather on parks and beaches and flouting government guidelines on social distancing.

John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said he 'could not imagine' how officers would police the ban on gatherings of more than two people.

Referring to Health Secretary Matt Hancock's earlier comments that police require people to follow the rules, he said: 'I would urge politicians to think before they make such bold statements.

'I just cannot rationally think how that would work.'

The Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police tweeted: 'Please do not cripple our phone lines with enquiries as to what you can and cannot do during the conditions imposed by the Prime Minister this evening.

'As soon as we have further clarity on permitted movements, we will upload a specific page on our web site.'

Humberside Police said: 'We've had many calls on our 101 line from people seeking answers, but at this stage we are not able to answer all of your enquiries.'

Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs' Council, added: 'Measures to ensure social distancing have so far not had the necessary effect.

'These new measures are sensible, based on scientific evidence and give people clarity on the exact steps they must take to stop the rapid transmission of this disease.

'The majority of people are already making real sacrifices to save lives and we urge everyone to follow the advice that is designed to keep us all safe.

'We are working with the government and other agencies to consider how these new rules can be most effectively enforced.'
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