Britain’s sharp rise in coronavirus cases is worst in “affluent” youngsters aged 17 to 21, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today.
The surge will prompt new fears over the return of university – as it comes days before hundreds of thousands of students head off for a new academic year.
Mr Hancock – who produced no data to support his claim – said some young people are not obeying social distancing rules.
And he warned even if they’re at low risk, they could infect their grandparents.
It comes after there were 2,988 new positive Covid-19 tests up to 9am on Sunday – up from 1,813 in the previous 24 hours. That’s the highest daily figure since May 22.
Mr Hancock admitted the rise was “concerning” and “nobody wants to see a second wave here” after hospitalisations surged in France and Spain. Yet he denied ministers had lost control.
He told LBC radio: “The rise in the number of cases we’ve seen in the last few days is largely amongst younger people – under-25s, especially between 17 and 21.
“The message to all your younger listeners and to everybody is that even though you’re at lower risk of dying from Covid if you’re that age, if you’re under 25, you can still have really serious symptoms and consequences. And Long Covid, where people six months on are still ill, is prevalent among that population.
“Also, you can infect other people.
“And this argument that some people come out with, saying you don’t need to worry a bout a rise in cases because it’s younger people and they don’t die?
“Firstly, they can get very very ill.
“And secondly, inevitably it leads to older people catching it from them. So don’t infect your grandparents.”
Prof Gabriel Scally, a former NHS regional director of public health for the South West, today claimed the virus is now “endemic in our poorest communities”.
But Mr Hancock said: “Over the summer we had particular problems in some of the areas that are most deprived. Actually, the recent increase we’ve seen over the last few days is more broadly spread and is not concentrated in poorer areas.
“It’s actually amongst more affluent younger people especially that we’ve seen the rise.
“And that is where people really need to hear this message and abide by it – which is that everybody has a responsibility for social distancing to keep themselves safe and to keep others safe.”
Yesterday’s rise was the highest since May, when testing was patchy and many Covid sufferers slipped under the radar.
But Mr Hancock said the rise isn’t simply down to better testing, because the percentage of people testing positive has been rising too.
He warned that in Spain hospitalisations are up by 14 times since July – and in France they’ve trebled.
“Spreading the disease among younger people then leads to older people getting it,” Mr Hancock warned.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for Health Secretary Matt Hancock to appear before Parliament this afternoon over the record rise.
But ministers said they still see a full national lockdown as an “absolute last resort”.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the government is keeping its focus on “hotspots” and “local lockdowns”, monitoring outbreaks with the disaster-prone Test and Trace system.
He told Sky News: “These local lockdowns can have an impact and can be successful.
“And I think that’s the approach we want to take – not a full-scale national lockdown, but a local approach responding to flare-ups where we see them.”
Mr Hancock insisted schools were still safe to return – despite a caller to LBC, Francis in Twickenham, saying she was “absolutely terrified” about her 14-year-old daughter going back.
Francis said she had been shielding. But Mr Hancock claimed the number of cases among the school age population are “really low”, adding: “It’s a slightly older group where we’re seeing the rise.”