The UK recorded close to 3,000 coronavirus infections for the second day running on Monday as health secretary Matt Hancock warned “more affluent” young people were behind the increase and risked spreading the disease to older relatives.
Official data showed 2,948 people had tested positive in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of recorded infections to 350,100. The one-day total was only slightly down on 2,988 cases reported the day before — itself the highest total since May.
The increase in cases will raise concerns that the UK is on the brink of a resurgence of the virus, following similar patterns of infection in other European countries such as Spain and France.
In an interview with LBC, Mr Hancock said: “The rise in the number of cases we have seen over the past few days is larger among younger people — under-25s, especially between 17 and 21.”
While over the summer there had been “particular problems in some of the areas that are most deprived”, the increase in infections over the past few days “is more broadly spread and is not concentrated in poorer areas — it is actually among more affluent younger people, especially, where we have seen the rise”, he added.
Warning that everyone had a responsibility to maintain social distancing, he pushed back against the argument that young people would not become seriously ill. “Long Covid”, symptoms that can persist for more than six months after infection, was “prevalent” among that group, he added.
Sick youngsters could also infect others, he pointed out. “This argument that we have seen — saying you don’t need to worry about the rise in cases because it’s impacting younger people who are less likely to die — firstly they can get very ill and secondly, inevitably, it leads to older people catching it from them — so don’t infect your grandparents,” he added.
Asked if Britain was losing control as cases rose, he said: “It’s concerning because we have seen a rise in cases in France, in Spain, in some other countries across Europe. Nobody wants to see a second wave here. It just reinforces the point that people must follow the social distancing rules.”
He added that in Spain the number of hospitalisations had gone up by 14 times since the middle of July, while in France the number of people in hospital had trebled over the past month or so.
So far that trend has not been seen in the UK where hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 have not increased in line with the uptick in infections.
Yvonne Doyle, medical director for Public Health England, echoed Mr Hancock’s warnings to young people, saying that “the vast majority” of new cases were in people in their late teens and early 20s.
“What we don’t want to see is a continuing increase of cases in this age group because it could lead to them infecting their parents and grandparents who are much more at risk of poor outcomes from the virus,” added Dr Doyle.
Separately, Mr Hancock said the “best-case scenario” for a Covid-19 vaccine to be approved in the UK was later this year, but it was most likely to happen in the “first few months of next year”.
The Scottish government on Monday extended a ban on indoor meetings between households to two more council areas in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region amid growing concern about rising numbers of new Covid-19 cases.
Officials said that from midnight residents in Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire would be subject to the same restrictions on social visits that were announced for Glasgow and two neighbouring council areas on September 1.
The Greater Glasgow and Clyde area accounted for more than half of the 146 new cases of Covid-19 reported across Scotland on Monday, Nicola Sturgeon, first minister, said earlier on Monday, adding that six weeks ago the national average number of daily cases had been just 14.
“The current situation in Greater Glasgow and Clyde is a reminder that if we see a resurgence in cases, restrictions may have to be reimposed, rather than being relaxed,” Ms Sturgeon said.