Britain is at a coronavirus tipping point, says deputy chief medical officer

Pedestrians and shoppers walk in the high street in west London on October 11, 2020. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 11 October 2020

Britain is at a coronavirus tipping point, says deputy chief medical officer

  • Britain is seeing cases take off since the government began re-opening the economy, schools and universities
  • It has one of the highest death rates from coronavirus in Europe

LONDON: Britain is at a “tipping point” in the coronavirus crisis and the country must act now to stop history repeating itself, the deputy chief medical officer for England said on Sunday, urging people to follow the rules.
With the number of cases rapidly rising particularly in the north of England, ministers are readying a new set of rules to try to tackle the crisis that will include handing more power to local leaders to track the virus’ spread.
Jonathan Van Tam said in an opinion article that the spread of COVID-19 was now moving from younger adult age groups to older people in the worst affected areas, and “just as night follow day, increases in deaths will now follow.”
“In our national fight against COVID-19, we are at a tipping point similar to where we were in March; but we can prevent history repeating itself if we all act now,” Van Tam said.
“We are in the middle of a severe pandemic and the seasons are against us. Basically, we are running into a headwind ... The principles for how we keep transmission low have not changed,” he said, repeating the message for people to wash their hands, wear face coverings and reduce social contact.
Britain, which has one of the highest death rates from coronavirus in Europe, is seeing cases take off since the government began re-opening the economy, schools and universities.
Wanting to balance protecting lives and livelihoods, the government has adopted a strategy of using local lockdowns to try to contain the virus, but its critics say there has been little evidence that this approach is working.


UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years

Updated 17 min 39 sec ago

UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years

  • Decision goes against the government’s promise last year to maintain the aid target and drew sharp criticism
  • A minister has quit, arguing that the decision “will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right”

LONDON: The British government faced fury Wednesday over its decision to ditch its long-standing target for overseas aid in the wake of what it described as the deepest recession in over three centuries.
In a statement to lawmakers, Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said the target to allocate 0.7% of national income to overseas aid will be cut to 0.5%. The move is expected to free up 4 billion pounds ($5.3 billion) for the Conservative government to use elsewhere, money that critics say could be used to save tens of thousands of lives in the poorest parts of the world.
While expressing “great respect to those who have argued passionately to retain this target,” Sunak said “sticking rigidly” to it “is difficult to justify” to people at a time when the economy has been so battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“At a time of unprecedented crisis, government must make tough choices,” he said.
Without giving a timetable, he said that the government aims to return to the target first laid out by the Labour government of Tony Blair in 2004. And he said that even with the new target, the UK will still be the second biggest aid spender among the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.
The decision goes against the government’s promise last year to maintain the aid target and drew sharp criticism from across the political spectrum, including within Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative Party.
Liz Sugg, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, has quit, arguing that the decision “will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right.”
The UK has for years been considered one of the world’s leaders in development and aid so the government’s decision to lower the target was met with anger and dismay from poverty campaigners.
“Cutting the UK’s lifeline to the world’s poorest communities in the midst of a global pandemic will lead to tens of thousands of otherwise preventable deaths,” said Oxfam Chief Executive Danny Sriskandarajah.
Save the Children Chief Executive Kevin Watkins also said the decision had “broken Britain’s reputation for leadership on the world stage” ahead of its hosting of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference next year.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby joined the chorus of disapproval, describing the cut as “shameful and wrong” and urging lawmakers “to reject it for the good of the poorest, and the UK’s own reputation and interest.”
In a sobering assessment that provided the backdrop to the cut, Sunak sought to balance ongoing support for the economy with a longer-term commitment to heal public finances after a stark deterioration.
“Our health emergency is not yet over and our economic emergency has only just begun,” he said.
Sunak said the government’s independent economic forecasters are predicting that the British economy will shrink 11.3% this year, the “largest fall in output for more than 300 years.”
The Office for Budget Responsibility expects the economy to grow again next year as coronavirus restrictions are eased and hoped-for vaccines come on stream. The agency is predicting growth of 5.5% in 2021 and 6.6% the following year. As a result the output lost during the pandemic won’t have been recouped until the final quarter of 2022.
Sunak warned that the pandemic’s cost will create long-term “scarring,” with the economy 3% smaller in 2025 than predicted in March, before the spring lockdown.
The massive fall in output this year has led to a huge increase in public borrowing as the government sought to cushion the blow and tax revenues fell. Sunak said the government has pumped 280 billion pounds into the economy to get through the pandemic. Public borrowing this fiscal year is set to hit 394 billion pounds, or 19% of national income, “the highest recorded level of borrowing in our peacetime history.”
He warned that underlying public debt is rising toward 100% of annual GDP.
“High as these costs are, the costs of inaction would have been far higher,” he said. “But this situation is clearly unsustainable over the medium term.”
Sunak said the 1 million doctors and nurses in the National Health Service will get a pay rise next year, as will 2.1 million of the lowest paid workers in the public sector. However, he said pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be “paused” next year.
Sunak also announced extra money to support Johnson’s program of investments in infrastructure across the UK, particularly in the north of England, where the Conservatives won seats during the last general election. A new infrastructure bank will also be headquartered in the north of England.