Experts have said it is in the “public’s hands to take control” of the UK’s pandemic, urging them to “behave as if you’re trying to protect your brothers, your sisters, your parents and your friends”.
As the country is starting to see the effects of household mixing over Christmas and the emergence of the new variant of coronavirus, government officials and scientists are calling for individuals to take responsibility to help bring down cases.
A record 68,053 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK on Friday and one in 50 people in England are now thought to have coronavirus, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This figure rises to one in 30 in London.
Professor Calum Semple, a member of the government’s scientific group for emergencies (SAGE), said: “I’m afraid it will get worse.”
He said: “We’re seeing increasing numbers in the Midlands and the North West and the North East. We’re also 14 days after Christmas, so we’re now in the sweet spot for the effects of Christmas mixing, which sadly coincided with the emergence of this new, more transmissible strain.
“So we’re seeing more people being affected in a shorter period of time than before.”
Asked by Sky’s Sophy Ridge whether we should all take more responsibility, he said: “It’s unfortunate we’ve been hit by a combination of the Christmas mixing and the evolution of a new, more transmissible strain. But yes, we do need to take more responsibility.”
According to ONS data, four in 10 adults in Britain formed a bubble to celebrate Christmas Day.
This was allowed in all parts of the UK except for those under Tier 4 restrictions, although experts had warned that any mixing over the festive period would cause an increase in cases.
Professor Semple said there is “nothing magical” about bringing cases down and easing pressure on hospitals, saying: “It’s in the public’s hands to take control. Behave as if you’re trying to protect your brothers, your sisters, your parents and your friends.”
Still, he said he was “optimistic” that stabilising the situation could be achieved as “most people in Britain care deeply about their friends and relatives” and have been adhering to the rules, adding: “Science and society can beat this.”
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His comments have been echoed by Dr Katie Sanderson, who works at a London hospital and told Sky News that while NHS staff are trying their best to treat patients, they are “powerless” to prevent new infections.
She said it is up to “each and every individual” to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 as the “huge pressure” on hospitals currently will impact everyone.
“I think we’ve all got to think really, really, really carefully about what we do over the next couple of weeks because otherwise we are not going to be able to offer good quality medical care to people who need it, and that is patients with coronavirus but it’s also all other patients who have heart attacks, fall of their bicycle, have appendicitis, strokes, hit by a car, have burns,” she said.
“None of this has stopped and this effects everybody.”
Scores of healthcare workers have described the bleak situation in the UK’s hospitals – particularly in London – with another ICU nurse saying colleagues have become “so burnt out they can’t eat”.
Unite union representative Ameera Sheikh, 28, said some patients were “openly admitting that they’re breaking the rules, some are just giving vague responses”.
But she felt the much of the issue had been caused by the government’s response to the pandemic, saying it had “failed us”.
The government has now released an ad campaign to encourage Britons to keep complying with the restrictions and “act as if you’ve got” the virus.
Fronted by England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, the campaign ad says: “Once more, we must all stay at home. If it’s essential to go out, remember: wash your hands, cover your face indoors and keep your distance from others.”
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