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UK COVID-19 Update: Tougher Penalties for People Refusing to Self-isolate

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

Failure to Self-isolate 'Now Illegal'

People in England who test positive for COVID-19 could face a fine of up to £10,000 if they refuse to self-isolate.

From today, it is a punishable offence not to comply following a positive test result or when told to do so by NHS Test and Trace.

It comes as a preprint of a study by King's College London (KCL) found that only 18.2% of people with symptoms adhered to self-isolation.

Fines will start at £1,000, rising to £10,000 for repeat offenders or serious breaches.

People on lower incomes who were unable to work from home and have lost income as a result will also be eligible for a new £500 Test and Trace support payment, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

"Everyone must take personal responsibility and self-isolate if they test positive or if told to do so by NHS Test and Trace," Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said.

"For those who fail to do so, the police will enforce the law. These new fines are a clear sign that we will not allow those who break the rules to reverse the hard-won progress made by the law-abiding majority."

Additional steps would be taken to ensure compliance, the Government said. These included police checking on people supposed to be self-isolating in COVID-19 hot spots, and ensuring that Test and Trace call-handlers increased contact with those told to self-isolate.

Employers who force or allow staff to go to work when they should be self-isolating would also be liable for fines of up to £10,000.

The Government estimated that just under 4 million people on benefits in England would be eligible for the Test and Trace support payment.

Users of the new NHS COVID-19 app are anonymous and cannot be forced to self-isolate or be identified if they fail to do so.

The KCL study, based on 31,787 people aged 16 and over in the UK, found that people who wanted to self-isolate when required to do so were more likely to disobey if they were in a lower socio-economic group and had a dependent child in the household. Men and younger people were least likely to adhere to restrictive measures.

The authors said that practical support and financial reimbursement were likely to help improve self-isolation rates.

Experts Call for Review of 10pm Pub Curfew

Several experts expressed serious concerns that rules requiring pubs and restaurants to close at 10pm to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2 could backfire and trigger more infections.

Since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the measure last week, ministers have been questioned over whether forcing drinkers out on the streets and on to public transport at the same time was a wise infection control measure.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, a city under tighter lockdown restrictions than other areas of the UK, said: "My gut feeling is that this curfew is doing more harm than good."

Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, said the curfew lacked any evidence base for curbing the spread of the virus, and was "symptomatic of the limited life experience of those involved in making policies".

He told the Science Media Centre: "Anyone with a basic knowledge of sociology, anthropology, socio-legal studies, or criminology would have predicted the transport chaos that Andy Burnham has described – and the street parties that we have seen elsewhere."

Prof Susan Michie, director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London, warned that forcing people onto the streets at a set time would trigger binge drinking as closing time approached, create crowds, and encourage people to carry on partying in private homes.

"The measure is another example of a restriction brought in without a coherent strategy and without sufficient consultation with relevant experts and communities," she said.

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, commented: "The virus doesn’t care what time it is. Transmission will occur from infected people if they are close enough to others to spread droplets, at 10pm, 10am or any time in between."

Dr Flavio Toxvaerd from the University of Cambridge suggested that opening hours should be expanded to prevent crowds forming and that customers could be allocated set time periods for eating and drinking.

"We need to be creative and ensure that we make the least damage to the economy while keeping in mind the effect on social activity on the spread of the disease," he said.

The Houses of Parliament will enforce a 10pm curfew in its bars and restaurants. The decision was taken after it emerged that the Palace of Westminster was not bound by the early closing time, the BBC reported.

'Robust and Resilient' PPE Supply Chain

Health and social care workers were assured that every effort had been made to ensure no shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) this winter.

The DHSC said a 4 month stockpile of items including face masks, visors, and gowns would be in place from November to provide "a continuous flow to the frontline".

Overall, 32 billion items of equipment had been bought, it said.

UK firms were expected to produce 70% of the expected demand for PPE from December, compared with only 1% before the start of the pandemic.

"We have built robust and resilient supply chains from scratch and thanks to an absolutely phenomenal effort from UK businesses, almost three quarters of demand for PPE will soon be met by UK manufacturers," said Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary.

The Government also announced plans to move beyond the emergency response to the pandemic to "stabilise and build resilience" in the PPE supply chain.

Lord Deighton, who advises the Health Secretary on PPE, said: "We have brought together a team that unites our procurement expertise and have overhauled the distribution network to rely less on overseas imports and more on our excellent businesses at home to ensure there is a reliable supply over the years to come.

"It has been an extraordinary effort by so many to get to this point but we will not lose our focus – the PPE strategy outlines how we are building further resilience in order to be ready for a new wave of infections in the autumn, winter, or beyond."

Coronavirus Infection Survey

As the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 increases, official figures showed that infection with SARS-CoV-2 has been increasingly driven by younger people.

Latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) covered the period between 23 July and 10 September.

Infection rates have increased primarily in the least deprived areas within each region.

The ONS also noted a trend in increasing rates of positive tests among under-35s who had socially distanced contact with 6 or more people aged 18 to 69.

It said this suggested that socially distanced direct contact in younger people was an increasingly important factor underlying infection rates.

Face to Face Appointments With GPs

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) said it wanted to set the record straight after a poll suggested that around a third of patients have put off visiting their GP during the pandemic when they would previously have made an appointment.

The Daily Mail said its survey suggested that almost two-thirds of those wanting a face to face appointment with their GP since 1 April were unable to get one.

Also, nearly six out of 10 said they were concerned about accessing surgeries this winter.

Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, said: "Throughout the pandemic general practice has remained open and GPs and our teams are working hard to care for both COVID and non-COVID patients.

"GPs are following Government guidance and have done everything they've needed to do to minimise the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of patients and frontline health professionals.

"We understand that some patients prefer the face to face personalised service that they are used to – and that many GPs also prefer this way of consulting. However, the challenge of infection control isn't going away and there has been a rapid rise in the number of people testing positive for COVID.

"When remote consultations have been unsuitable – such as for vaccinations or when a physical examination is required – face to face consultations have been arranged, and will continue to be."

Extra COVID-19 Restrictions in South Wales

Coronavirus restrictions are being further tightened today in parts of South Wales in response to a growing number of cases of COVID-19, the Welsh Government said.

The new local restrictions coming in to force at 6pm state that:

  • People will not be allowed to enter or leave these areas without a reasonable excuse, such as travel for work, or education
  • People will only be able to meet people from other households outdoors, unless they have a good reason, such as providing care to a vulnerable person
  • Licensed premises must stop serving alcohol at 10pm
  • Everyone over 11 will be required to wear face coverings in indoor places that are open to the public, such as shops, and on public transport

The Welsh Government announced on Friday local coronavirus restrictions in Llanelli, Cardiff, and Swansea.

Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, said: "We are now taking further action and placing three more areas under local restrictions in South Wales – Neath Port Talbot, Torfaen, and the Vale of Glamorgan – because we are seeing rising rates in these three areas."

COVID-19 App Downloads Reach 10 Million in England and Wales

More than 10 million people have downloaded the new official COVID-19 app for England and Wales, the Government said on Sunday.

Downloads of the app, which is available to anyone aged 16 and over, reached 6 million on launch day last Thursday.

Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, described the response as "absolutely fantastic".

A glitch with the app that meant it was unable to accept around a third of test results in England was resolved, the Government said yesterday.

The app was designed to aid the NHS Test and Trace service in England and the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect programme.

Using low-energy Bluetooth technology, it can alert users if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

It also enables users to check in at venues, such as pubs and restaurants, by using their smartphones to scan a QR code.

More than 1.5 million QR check-ins were recorded on Saturday, the DHSC said.

It said the QR codes would help test and trace services contact large numbers of people if coronavirus outbreaks were identified in venues.

The Government has assured people that the app was designed with privacy in mind, and that no personal data is shared with the authorities.

During the summer, the Government announced it was abandoning a centralised NHSX coronavirus track and trace app in favour of the current model that uses technology developed by Google and Apple.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.