Affluent young people have helped propel the rise in coronavirus cases, the Health Secretary has suggested.
Matt Hancock implored young people to stick to social-distancing measures as he said that under-25s, particularly those aged 17-21, accounted for a large number of positive cases.
He said “nobody wants to see a second wave” in the UK and that a recent surge in cases was “concerning”.
There were a further 2,948 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Monday, following the 2,988 reported on Sunday which was the largest daily figure since May.
Meanwhile, the Health Secretary suggested that mass testing could see people given a 24-hour Covid-free “pass” to enable them to get back into theatres and sporting events where they may need to be in close contact.
He also said that should the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine be successful, it could be rolled out by the end of this year in a “best case scenario” – but the beginning of next year was “most likely”.
Speaking on LBC radio, Mr Hancock said younger people could still have serious illness and could pass on disease to more vulnerable people – including their grandparents.
“The rise in the number of cases we have seen in the last few days is concerning,” he said.
“It is 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, they are so important.
“The rise in the number of cases we have seen over the last few days is largely among younger people – under 25s, especially between 17 and 21 – and the message to all your younger listeners is that even though you are at lower risk of dying from Covid if you’re under 25, you can still have really serious symptoms and consequences.
“Long Covid – where people six months on are still ill – is prevalent among younger people.
“Also, that you can infect other people – this argument that we have seen that some people come out with saying ‘you don’t need to worry about a rise in cases because it is younger people and they don’t die’ – firstly they can get very, very ill.
“And secondly it inevitably leads to older people catching it from them – don’t infect your grandparents.”
He added: “We will take action if people go to big social events that are completely inappropriate, sadly, in a time of coronavirus.”
Downing Street later reiterated the comments, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman warning: “Generally a rise in cases among younger people leads to a rise across the population as a whole.”
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock said the rise in coronavirus cases was not restricted to poorer areas.
He added: “Over the summer we had particular problems in some of the areas that are most deprived.
“Actually, the recent increase we have seen in the last few days is more broadly spread.
“It’s actually among more affluent younger people where we have seen the rise.”
Mr Hancock set out more detail for mass testing plans, which could give someone a “pass” to know they are not infectious for at least 24 hours.
When asked about people getting back into theatres to go to pantomimes, Mr Hancock added: “That is the hope that we hold out for the nation, that we can get things going even if there isn’t a vaccine, that we can use mass testing so people can check whether they have the virus today, if they don’t then (they can) go and do things, even if it means being in close confinement.
“We need to use the next design of tests which don’t require you to send the swab off to the lab and get the result back.
“There’s a new technology that we’re backing to get a test where you can have the turn around essentially on the spot and so you can imagine being able to go to something like the theatre, or a sports event, or to work, and you have the test, you get the result back and then they can go into the theatre.
“That is what we’re working on, that is the hope, and I also hope that will allow us to have a merry Christmas.”
Asked about mass testing to reduce quarantines for travellers arriving in the UK, Mr Hancock said current rapid tests show people are not infectious only “at that moment”.
“For somebody coming in from Heathrow, we need to know also that they’re not incubating it,” he said.
“Under the mass-testing proposal you’d essentially get a pass to say ‘for the next 24 hours we are confident that you’re not infectious’. You might still be incubating it and get ill a week later.
“The challenge with people coming in from abroad is that we need to know that they’re not going to go out and about and infect everybody.”
When asked about the Covid-19 vaccine candidate by AstraZeneca, Mr Hancock added: “We have got 30 million doses already contracted with AstraZeneca, in fact they are starting to manufacture those doses already, ahead of approval, so that should approval come through – and it’s still not certain but it is looking up – should that approval come through then we are ready to roll out.
“The best-case scenario is that happens this year. I think more likely is the early part of next year – in the first few months of next year is the most likely.
“But we’ve also bought vaccine ahead of it getting approved from a whole different series of international vaccines as well.”
When asked whether he had “lost control” of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Hancock said: “No, but the whole country needs to following social distancing.
“We can only do this as a whole society – everybody has a role to play.”
But he admitted that there have been “operational issues” over testing when probed about people being asked to travel long distances for tests.
Mr Hancock pledged that no one would be asked to travel for more than 75 miles to get a test, even though this could be a “quite a hike” for some.
It comes as:
– The total number of confirmed cases in the UK is now 350,100.
– The seven-day rate of new UK cases has risen to 21.3 per 100,000 people – just above the threshold of 20 cases per 100,000 at which the Government considers imposing quarantine conditions on people travelling to the UK, if recorded in other countries.
– Train services across England and Wales were ramped up to around 90% of pre-pandemic levels on Monday, with operators telling commuters they can “travel with confidence”
– A number of schools have reported confirmed cases of coronavirus cases including three around Middlesborough and one in Suffolk.