UK ministers discuss COVID-19 concern amid rise in cases

FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference about the ongoing situation with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, December 16, 2020. Matt Dunham/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was holding a conference call with his senior ministers on Saturday to discuss concern over a new strain of the COVID-19 virus which is rising across parts of Britain, his spokesman said.

The government on Monday said a rise in infections might be partly linked to a new more transmissible variant of the virus when it moved London and other swathes of the country into the highest tier of restrictions to curb the spread of COVID.

Johnson said on Friday he hoped that England would not need to go into a third lockdown after Christmas, but scientists have warned that urgent action might be needed to curb the spread of the virus.

Britain reported 28,507 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and 489 deaths, with the reproduction “R” number estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.2, meaning the number of cases is rapidly increasing.

“This is a very major concern,” Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said on Twitter.

“Failing to act decisively now, will mean further suffering. We must keep asking ourselves ‘are we doing enough, are we acting quickly enough’.”

Johnson has so far resisted calls to change the government plans to ease restrictions for five days over Christmas, allowing three separate households to meet indoors.

Sky News reported that SAGE would meet on Monday to discuss how the current three-tiered system of restrictions could be beefed up.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper said it was possible ministers could announce an emergency toughening of measures on Saturday, possibly including restrictions on travel between the southeast of England, including London, and the rest of the country.

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