The government has been accused of blaming Europe for a second wave of coronavirus, as measures to combat a potential spike in cases are set to be introduced.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said he was “worried” after he warned that figures showed that a second wave was “starting to roll across Europe”.
But Labour MP Neil Coyle said Hancock was “screeching ‘look over there’”, and said that the crisis was “homegrown”.
He tweeted: “Hancock screeching ‘look over there’ across all news this morn whilst the UK dead toll remains the highest in all Europe.
“Locked down late; threw care homes under a bus; failed to test on scale seen in other countries; app failed; and stats hidden. Any second wave here is homegrown.”
Hancock screeching ‘look over there’ across all news this morn whilst the UK dead toll remains the highest in all Europe. Locked down late; threw care homes under a bus; failed to test on scale seen in other countries; app failed; & stats hidden. Any 2nd wave here is homegrown.— Neil Coyle (@coyleneil) July 30, 2020
Hancock said on Thursday morning that a spike in cases across the continent would mean further measures introduced in the UK to tackle a potential uptick.
He told Sky News: "I am worried about a second wave. I think you can see a second wave starting to roll across Europe and we've got to do everything we can to prevent it from reaching these shores and to tackle it.
"The measures that the chief medical officer will set out later are part of that but so too are the measures we're taking, for instance to ensure that we don't directly bring cases back to this country where there's a big spike in cases.
"So absolutely on a second wave it is something I worry about and I worry about it because we can see it happening.”
Hancock’s comments come after a government source told the Daily Mail that the prime minister was “extremely concerned” by outbreaks “bubbling up”, both at home and abroad.
Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute medical research centre, also told Yahoo News UK that there were signs of a second wave in Europe.
Self-isolation rule change
People who test positive for coronavirus or display symptoms must now self-isolate for 10 days.
The UK’s chief medical officers said on Thursday that the period must increase from the current rule of seven days because of the risk individuals may still be able to spread Covid-19.
In a joint statement, they said the change for those who experience the key symptoms of a new continuous cough, high temperature or loss of taste or smell is needed because of the “low but real possibility of infectiousness” up to 10 days.
The chief medical officers for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland said that it is “now the correct balance of risk” to extend the isolation period for those who test positive or have symptoms to 10 days.
“Evidence, although still limited, has strengthened and shows that people with Covid-19 who are mildly ill and are recovering have a low but real possibility of infectiousness between seven and nine days after illness onset,” they said.
Quarantine reduced for travellers?
Hancock also said ministers were investigating ways to reduce the 14-day quarantine period for new arrivals to the UK from at-risk countries, including Spain.
But when quizzed over how many checks have taken place to determine the amount of people abiding by quarantine rules, Hancock was unable to answer.
He told BBC Breakfast: “The vast majority of people do abide by the rules.”
When pushed to ask for a figure, Hancock replied: “I’m terribly sorry I don’t have the precise number of people we have been in contact with.”
Confusion on how many people are being checked to see if they are abiding by quarantine measures when coming back from Spain.— Haggis_UK 🇬🇧 🇪🇺 (@Haggis_UK) July 30, 2020
Matt Hancock doesn't have an answer.#BBCBreakfast pic.twitter.com/NGMMjn7Fbp
Asked about reports of the quarantine reduction, Hancock added: "We're always looking at how we can have the least-possible burden of the measures that we have to put into place so that is something on which we're doing some work but we'll only come forward with a proposal when we're confident that it is safe to do so.”
However, Hancock said there would be no changes in the next few days to quarantine rules for people returning from overseas.
He said work was ongoing on whether testing people during the 14-day quarantine period would mean it was safe to release them earlier.
Hancock added: ”This is a really important, essentially scientific clinical question, so that's something that we're working on.
"But we are not imminently making an announcement on it because that work is not concluded, and until it is absolutely safe to make that sort of change, then we won't do so, but it is something that we're working on."
Concern levels ‘very high’
Health leaders have "very high" levels of concern about the possibility of a second spike in coronavirus cases, one expert has said.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said that the combination of a spike of cases with "exhausted staff" while the NHS tries to rebuild services could prove “challenging".
He told the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus: "I would say in relation to the second spike issue or something coming, the levels of concern among our members – the people who are leading NHS trusts, who are leading in primary care and all levels in the systems – is very high.
"There's real concern about winter and the compounding factors there, but also about an earlier spike.”