Furious Leicester residents blamed an explosion in coronavirus cases on ‘idiots’ flouting social distancing rules today – as ministers warned people face arrest if they break a new lockdown being imposed on the city.
In a taste of what communities across the country will face if there are flare-ups, Matt Hancock has declared that all non-essential shops in the area must shut, just two weeks after they were allowed to reopen.
Schools will also be closed from Thursday amid fears the surge in cases is being driven by transmission among children – with the loosening planning for the rest of England on July 4 now off the agenda in Leicester until at least July 18.
The streets of the city centre were deserted this morning, as Mr Hancock confirmed that police will be enforcing the curbs, vowing to push through laws to bolster their powers.
But he hinted that there will be no extra compensation for businesses, and faced a backlash after admitting there will be no ban on cars or trains into the city. The boundaries of the restrictions were only revealed this morning, adding to the sense of chaos.
There is also anger that action was not taken sooner, with complaints that ministers kept local authorities in the dark for more than a week after identifying a worrying spike in cases.
In a round of interviews intended to reassure an anxious public this morning, Mr Hancock said the government was mobilising its strategy for crushing localised outbreaks – dubbed ‘whack a mole’ by Boris Johnson.
‘It’s so important that we get a grip on this spike that has happened in Leicester. We will be closing the shops by law and will be changing the law in the next day or two to do that,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
He warned people not to travel ‘in, out or within Leicester’ unless it is essential, but added: ‘We are not putting that into law at this stage – we will keep that under review and make changed if we need to’.
However, experts branded the outbreak in Leicester ‘a reflection of premature lifting of lockdown measures’, and predicted other cities would need the same treatment.
And health committee chair Jeremy Hunt described the action as a ‘necessary puncturing of the elation’ that had been building in England as the lockdown loosens.
The measures for Leicester first announced by Mr Hancock in a dramatic statement to the Commons last night include:
Mr Hancock revealed that testing over the past ten days had revealed an ‘unusually high incidence in children in Leicester’- who are unlikely to be ill themselves but could pass it to adults.
He said: ‘There are under 18s that have tested positive and therefore because children can transmit the disease we think the safest thing to do is to close the schools’, adding that they delayed this until Thursday to allow parents to organise childcare’.
Language barriers, high levels of diabetes and poverty among Leicester’s BAME residents have also been blamed for the Covid-19 surge in the East Midlands city.
Mr Hancock admitted they were looking at areas with similar demographics in the north-west and Yorkshire but said: ‘Leicester is very significantly worse than other cities’.
Residents have been advised to stay at home and warned against all but essential travel following a spike of 800-plus Covid-19 cases in Leicester since mid-June.
The area accounted for around 10 per cent of all positive cases in the UK over the past week.
Mr Hancock said ‘in some cases’ the lockdown would be enforced by the police, while legal changes would be made so non-essential retail is no longer open.
‘We will be bringing forward a legal change very shortly, in the next couple of days, because some of the measures that we’ve unfortunately had to take in Leicester will require legal underpinning,’ he said.
When pressed on how people would be stopped from travelling outside the city, he said: ‘We’re recommending against all but essential travel both to and from and within Leicester, and as we saw during the peak, the vast majority of people will abide by these rules.
‘Of course we will take further action including putting in place laws if that is necessary but I very much hope it won’t be.’
But Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said the new lockdown in the city should have been brought in much sooner.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: ‘The Secretary of State (Matt Hancock) announced that he believed there was an outbreak in Leicester the best part of two weeks ago.
‘Since then, we’ve been struggling to get information from them about what data they had, what led them to believe there was a particular problem here, and struggling to get them to keep the level of testing in Leicester.’
He said he had been trying ‘for weeks’ to access data on the level of testing in the city and was only given access last Thursday.
When asked whether a local lockdown should have been brought in earlier, he said: ‘If as seems to be the case, the figures suggest there are issues in the city, I would wish that they had shared that with us right from the start, and I wish they had taken a more speedy decision rather than leaving it 11 days from the Secretary of State’s first announcement…
‘That’s a long gap, and a long time for the virus to spread.’
Dr Bharat Pankhania, Senior Clinical Lecturer at University of Exeter Medical School predicted more cities will be locked down in the same way.
He said: ‘Going forward; six months, nine months from today, we will have outbreaks in Manchester, Birmingham – other big cities’.
Young people in Leicester, who are believed to be disproportionately affected by the return of the virus, are unsurprised Covid is making a comeback.
Molly Farmer-Law, 16, has just finished her GCSE year and said friends could not resist the temptation to party, even though she has stayed in.
‘Quite a few people have been meeting up’ she said.
‘Not many people my age were taking it seriously. People had just finished school and wanted to meet. We’ve seen it on videos.’
And even if pubs and clubs stay closed in Leicester few think it will curb social activity among the 18 to 30s as the summer moves into full swing.
‘Everyone is still doing what they were doing before’ said Grace, 27, who did not want to give her full name.
‘People will find somewhere for a drink. If they can’t get it in Leicester they will go elsewhere or to illegal raves.
‘There are a lot of abandoned warehouses around here, or they’ll go to Nottingham or Loughborough. They will find somewhere’ said the healthcare assistant, who has seen many cases of Covid among the people she cares for.
Student Faith Owolambi, 21, agreed. ‘They will go somewhere else to meet up. Birmingham and Coventry are not far, or they will just go to the park.’
Pubs, clubs and restaurants in Leicester were already struggling financially after the lockdown began on March 23, and are now faced with another two weeks without being able to trade.
The Konak Turkish restaurant on the edge of the city centre has lost £50,000 and laid off 20 of its 26 staff since the lockdown began.
‘They said we could open on July 4 and we were sold out,’ said front of house manager Osman Macit, who is 24
‘We had taken 46 bookings and we had spoken to staff about coming back and now we have to cancel all of that. It is all going out of the window. And we don’t know if it is going to be two weeks or more.’
Meanwhile, some Leicester residents are warning other cities to take the threat of a second wave seriously, since they could be next.
Retired maths teacher Mohamed Ahmed, 58, has been wearing a mask throughout the pandemic and does not intend to remove it when outdoors until next spring.
‘I think this will happen in other places’ he said. ‘Once the lockdown is opened up people will not be that bothered and they will pass it on to other people.’
At Leicester Market, which has remained open throughout the pandemic, traders insisted the new rise of Covid in the city had nothing to do with them.
‘The market has not been closed, but even now people are still scared to come out’ said Stephen Powley, 56, who has worked on Leicester Market for more than 40 years.
The greengrocer, who was doing a reasonable trade in fresh fruit even though the number of shoppers is well down on pre-pandemic levels and more than half the pitchers are empty.
‘There is more space here than queueing for the shops,’ said the veteran trader, who has his son, Jack, 15, alongside while the schools are closed.
‘This is safer than Sainsbury’s or any other supermarket. It is spread out, it’s in the open air. We have notices asking people to stay two metres apart and not to handle the produce.’
Colleague Buddy Abbott, 55, who came on the market as a teenage apprentice agreed. ‘There have been no signs of Covid among market traders. If there was the market would be closed straight away.’
Leicester barber Blake Edwards, 38, had been ready to reopen his salon on July 4 before learning he would have to sit back and wait.
The 38-year-old said the situation in Leicester was ’embarrassing’.
Mr Edwards opened his business ‘Flappers & Gentlemen’ in December 2013 and employs some 15 staff members, all of whom have been furloughed.
He told MailOnline: ‘It’s embarrassing. It’s horrible this has happened to Leicester.
‘The city has been known for such positive things lately so to have this is a real kick in the teeth. Unfortunately there is a minority of people that causes problems for the majority.
‘The majority of responsible individuals will carry on and refocus. We just have to take the bit and pick up the pieces and reform; all we can do is learn.
‘I don’t know what has caused the spike, but there seem to be a minority of people who don’t take things seriously and feel that they’re indestructible.
‘It’s frustrating and from the start, in a huge park near my house, I’ve witnessed scenes that are alarming. That caught more wind as time goes on.’
Alex Richie, landlord of The Dove, just on the edge of the city, told the Sun: ‘There’s only one reason that we would go into a further lockdown: [people] not following social distancing guidelines, and people need to learn’.
The city’s Labour Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby agreed to the lockdown last night after a war of words with the Government over a lack of data about who was ill and how the shutdown will work.
He said: ‘I haven’t got a clue as to how this will work in practice’ admitting if people wanted to go to a pub they could drive into Leicestershire ‘or visit a friend in Birmingham to have their hair cut’.
Asked if this was a real threat he said: ‘It depends on how long the restrictions are extended, but it won’t be long before people think ‘I’m going’.’
Leicester has an infection rate of 135 per 100,000 people, which is three times higher than the next highest local area, Mr Hancock said. Hospital admissions are also much higher than the norm at between six and ten per day.
‘Having taken clinical advice on the actions necessary and discussed them with the local team in Leicester and Leicestershire, we have made some difficult but important decisions,’
Mr Hancock told MPs in the House of Commons last night.’We’ve decided that from tomorrow, non-essential retail will have to close and as children have been particularly impacted by this outbreak, schools will also need to close from Thursday, staying open for vulnerable children and children of critical workers as they did throughout’.
The Government’s decision to enforce Britain’s first ‘whack-a-mole’ local lockdown came in response to 944 positive Covid-19 cases recorded in the city over two weeks – almost a third of Leicester’s 3,216 total since the pandemic began.
Mr Hancock said the reintroduced measures will be kept under review and will not be kept in place ‘any longer than is necessary’, adding: ‘We’ll review if we can release any of the measures in two weeks.
‘These Leicester-specific measures will apply not just to the city of Leicester but also the surrounding conurbation including, for example, Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield.’
The Health Secretary told the Commons: ‘These actions are profoundly in the national interest too because it’s in everyone’s interests that we control the virus as locally as possible.
‘Local action like this is an important tool in our armoury to deal with outbreaks while we get the country back on its feet.’
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, who represents Leicester South, said Boris Johnson has spoken about a ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy to combat coronavirus before, adding in the Commons: ‘We were alerted to the situation in Leicester 11 days ago and now we’ve got tonight from the Secretary of State the whack-a-mole strategy.
‘Doesn’t he agree that if we’re as a nation to ease the lockdown smoothly then those areas that do see flare-ups will need greater speed in the response, otherwise we risk no moles getting whacked?’
The Department of Health has recently sent extra testing units to Leicester to try and get on top of the virus and urged residents to be strict about social distancing and washing their hands.
It currently has three mobile testing sites in Evington, Spinney Hill Park and Victoria park, and a more permanent facility at the Birstall park and ride site. An indoor testing centre is due to open tomorrow at the Highfields Community Centre, and further testing sites are planned.
Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, who has heavily criticised the Government over its handling of the city’s Covid-19 outbreak, tonight admitted ministers have ‘gone further than we anticipated they might’ with these new measures.
‘They are clearly determined to start with the maximum, as it were, to see how it works and then perhaps to use the learning from this in other areas I have no doubt will follow,’ he told BBC Radio Leicester.
‘I can understand it from their perspective – they are entirely convinced that the level of the transmission of the disease in Leicester is at a higher level than I think the figures show.
‘Nonetheless I can understand why they want to err on the safe side… I can see where they’re coming from even thought I still have some scepticism about the figures that led them to this.’
Nick Rushton, the leader of Leicestershire County Council, added: ‘Protecting residents is our main concern and we’re working closely with Leicester City Council and the Government to bring down the number of cases.
‘Clearly coronavirus does not adhere to lines on a map. And although county rates are below the national and regional averages, we can’t be complacent and it makes sense to step up restrictions in areas closer to the city.
‘This is the first localised lockdown on this scale and undoubtedly there will be issues to iron out.
‘I understand this is disappointing news for residents, parents of schoolchildren and businesses when most of the country is opening back up but it’s crucial that people follow the latest advice.’
Liz Kendall, Labour MP for Leicester West, added she is ‘extremely concerned about children missing school and local businesses and jobs, but if we don’t bring infection rates down it will be worse for us all in the long run.’
She went on to urge the Government to ensure Leicester ‘gets all the resources we need including more testing kits and facilities, promoting health messages in all languages and more inspections in workplaces.’
Business owners echoed Ms Kendall’s concern at the news, with some claiming the lockdown extension ‘won’t make a difference’ to the coronavirus spike in Leicester.
Robin Dignall, the owner of [email protected] hairdressers, said from a business point of view he ‘needs to get the customers back in’.
‘We were all geared up ready to open on July 4 but, from reading the Government guidelines, they clearly haven’t consulted anybody in our profession,’ he said. ‘The furthest we can work away from someone is 0.5 metres and they are telling us our clients don’t have to wear masks and we don’t have to wear masks – just a visor.
‘Obviously money’s going out but there’s nothing coming in at the moment so from a business point of view yes, we do need to get the customers back in. But I’m not willing to put my health or anybody else’s health and safety at risk.’
Addressing how the lockdown extension would affect his business, Mr Dignall said: ‘We’ve got around 300 clients and we didn’t start booking in until we had a vague date of when we can open.
‘Now we’ve started booking in, if we’re going to close for another two weeks then we’re going to have to push everybody back two more weeks. So some may have to wait four, five, six weeks, maybe more before we can fit them in.’
Rakesh Parmar, who owns Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe in the city centre, said the further restrictions will affect him ‘financially very, very badly’.
He said: ‘The impact of coronavirus hit us on March 23, we closed for 10 weeks, and then opened again on June 15 – it’s been one long slog. At the end of the day, it’s got to be done for everyone’s safety. It’s got to be done.’
Mr Parmar said he ‘completely’ understood why a further lockdown would be needed.
Asked how his customers were feeling, he said: ‘Very, very scared because it’s closer to home than we realised. Then it’s the uncertainty of who the carrier is.’
Katie Katon, managing director of George’s Hairdressing, which has two branches in the city centre, said: ‘We have got over 100 staff split between these two salons and a third business under a different name.
‘We’ve ordered PPE for them, we’ve set up screens in the salons and we are booked out for the next three weeks. It has cost up to £10,000 to prepare the salons – mainly the cost of the screens, but there are other things around it such as marketing videos for social media and deep cleaning.
‘This is devastating news because we can’t just push those clients back a couple of weeks. It seems that everything is up in the air.
‘We are going to have a lot of upset customers and a lot of upset staff – many of whom were depending on that money they were due to start earning.
‘If it wasn’t for the furlough scheme we’d have gone bust already after 47 years in business. But we have big salons and big overheads and we can’t carry on like this for ever. We are a cash business.’
Language barriers, high levels of diabetes and poverty among Leicester’s BAME residents have been blamed for the Covid-19 surge in Leicester.
City councillor Ratilal Govind told MailOnline he thought there had been a lack of communication with people who do not speak English as a first language in the city, which has 49 per cent of its population of Asian heritage or from black backgrounds. In the east of Leicester, where the outbreak is at its worst, up to two-thirds of residents are BAME.
Councillor Govind, who represents the city’s Evington ward where one of the four mobile testing stations for the virus has been sited, said: ‘I have seen young people getting together, having a few drinks and conversation. They are just social gatherings. With these young people there is a language barrier. They are speaking their own language and I tell them to disperse in Gujarati. There is a lack of communication made worse by the language barriers’.
The city’s director of public health, Ivan Browne said: ‘Leicester has high levels of health conditions such as diabetes, pockets of deprivation, and a very significant Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic population – and we know that these factors combine to create a high-risk, more vulnerable, population that’s more susceptible to coronavirus’.
Leicester East MP, Claudia Webbe, said the increase in infections in Leicester is a result of poverty, rather than ethnicity.
She said: ‘These communities are disproportionately affected because of inequalities and social economic differences. These people are suffering from poverty and are more likely to have front line jobs.’
The mayor of Leicester Sir Peter has heavily criticised the Government over its handling of the situation in the city, earlier asserting he needs to ‘be convinced’ that an extension to lockdown is necessary.
He spoke to Mr Hancock this afternoon, and said afterwards that the Government was still ‘minded to extend the current level of restrictions for two weeks’.
Sir Peter said he ‘remained sceptical’ and that his discussion with Mr Hancock ‘took matters no further’ than the Public Health England (PHE) report he received in the early hours of this morning.
He said the report had been ‘cobbled together’ and ‘readily acknowledges’ that cases are higher in Leicester due to higher levels of testing in the city.
Ms Webbe has actively called for her constituency to be locked down and for her constituents to stay home, saying schools and a supermarket have had to close because the virus is out of control there. The Labour slammed the Government’s social distancing rules as ‘at best confusing’.
She told Leicestershire Live ‘the rate of infections has not been going down’ in the area.
‘Schools have had to close in Leicester East because of coronavirus; a supermarket had to close,’ Ms Webbe said.
‘We know the problem is in Leicester East, not spread across the city. People from Leicester East need to be not travelling across the city.
‘I don’t know how it would work but they have to implement a local lockdown. In my view, we need to go back to the standard of lockdown we had at the beginning.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday it was ‘correct’ that a local lockdown was on the cards, adding: ‘With local flare-ups it is right we have a localised solution’.
She added: ‘We have seen flare-ups across the country in recent weeks, in just the last three or four weeks in particular.’
It comes as one of the Government’s top scientific advisers, Sir Jeremy Farrar, yesterday warned that England is emerging from its Covid-19 lockdown on a ‘knife-edge’ and that the situation in the country is ‘very precarious’.
New cases being diagnosed in Britain are at a three-month low but the Office for National Statistics this week warned that the speed at which England’s outbreak is shrinking has ‘levelled off’ and there are still estimated to be around 51,000 people in the community infected with the virus.
Boris Johnson has insisted that he won’t hesitate to bring lockdown rules back if the virus starts to surge again, but has already announced pubs and cafes can reopen from next Saturday, July 4, and said people will be allowed to visit friends and family in small groups without social distancing.
‘Wherever there is a local outbreak, whether in Ashfield or Anglesea, we will empower the local authorities to quarantine everyone who has got it, test back to the moment of infection and make the necessary closures,’ the PM told the Mail on Sunday.
Concerns about Leicester come after a week which saw huge numbers of people in England abandon social distancing and flock to beaches, street parties and park raves in the scorching summer heat. Police had to try and disperse people from the Dorset Coast, the streets of Liverpool and parks in London amid fears reckless partying could trigger a second wave of Covid-19.
The Home Secretary acknowledged on the Andrew Marr show yesterday that Leicester was on high alert.
She said: ‘We have seen flare-ups across the country in recent weeks, in just the last three or four weeks in particular.
‘There will be support going into Leicester and in fact the Health Secretary was in touch with many of us over the weekend explaining some of the measures, the support on testing, resources that will go into the local authority as well.
‘With local flare-ups it is right we have a localised solution in terms of infection control, social distancing, testing and many of the tools actually within the Public Health England space which will come together to control the virus, to stop the spread so obviously we can get on top of the infection.’
Five schools in the city have had to to shut after reporting cases among staff, while workers at two Sainsbury’s stores also contracted Covid-19. And there have been outbreaks at sandwich and biscuits factories.
Hospitals in the Midlands region have seen the most deaths of any region outside of London, with 5,707 deaths up to yesterday, compared to 6,090 in the capital.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We are supporting the council and local partners in Leicester to help prevent further transmission of the virus.
‘We have deployed four mobile testing sites and made thousands of home testing kits available, to ensure anyone in the area who needs a test can get one.
‘NHS Test and Trace will contact anyone testing positive to help them identify their recent contacts and advise who may have been near to someone with the virus to stay at home to prevent the spread.
‘We urge the people of Leicester to continue to practice social distancing, wash their hands regularly, get tested immediately if they have symptoms and follow the advice they receive if contacted by NHS Test and Trace. This advice is there to protect communities and save lives.’
One scientist said trying to introduce local lockdowns will be fraught with difficulty because boundaries can cut through the middle of streets and many cities sprawl out into the countryside where people consider themselves to live somewhere else.
Professor Keith Neal, an epidemiologist at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘One of the biggest problems is deciding who is in the lockdown area and who is not. This needs to be understandable to both the people who are inside and the people on the outside.
‘People on the inside of the lockdown need to understand why they have been included. There would be nothing to stop people on the outside taking further voluntary precautions themselves as individuals if they were worried.
‘Defining the specific area will be one of the largest problems. Local authority boundaries can run down the middle of the street with one side in one local authority and the opposite another.
‘Locking down at the regional level would be seen as unfair or worse as Leicester City has really very little to do with rural Lincolnshire. People do not identify with their regional boundaries and many would not actually know where they are.
‘If Leicester is locked down, how much of the surrounding area do you include? A quick view at the satellite picture demonstrates this problem. Much of the surrounding area probably does not identify as part of Leicester City itself.’
There are also concerns that Leicester could see a large number of deaths if there is a significant second outbreak of Covid-19 there, because of its large ethnic minority population.
Scientific studies and a report by Public Health England found that black, Asian and minority ethnic people are at a significantly higher risk of dying than white people.
Around 14 per cent of people in Leicester are of Asian ethnicity, according to local data, which is more than triple the less than five per cent in England as a whole.
Other local lockdowns could be targeted at especially busy areas where crowds of people have gathered.
The coast in Dorset, for example – Bournemouth beach, in particular – saw hundreds of thousands of tourist visitors this week amid scorching sunshine.
The council in the area declared a ‘major incident’ because the area was so busy and police and politicians urged people to stay away from the seaside resort.
Police have also had to break up parties and raves attended by hundreds in London and disperse crowds forming in Liverpool after the city’s football team won the Premier League and fans celebrated in the street.
The Home Secretary said the rising numbers of uncontrolled mass gatherings flagrantly ignoring social distancing rules was ‘unacceptable’ and was adding the risk of Covid-19 returning.
Ms Patel said police would continue to break up such gatherings and that the ‘full force of the law’ would come down on those found guilty of assaulting emergency service workers, after officers were injured in confrontations in London and Liverpool.
Ms Patel, speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, said: ‘What we’ve seen with mass gatherings and protests is unacceptable. The violence we’ve seen against our officers is also unacceptable.
‘My message is the same – I would urge people not to participate in gatherings of that nature or protests, but I would also add if people do assault police officers, they will feel the full force of the law.’
‘It is simply unacceptable to have people gathering in these awful ways that we have been seeing.’
She told The Andrew Marr Show that Liverpool fans ‘did not need to go to the football ground and congregate outside the stadium’ to celebrate their team’s first top flight title in 30 years.
Ms Patel warned that a second wave of Covid-19 would devastate the UK’s economy, saying she could not ‘think of anything worse than us having another wave of this awful disease’.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his final daily Downing Street briefing this week that he would not hesitate to pull the ‘handbrake’ on easing lockdown if the virus starts to bounce back.
In an interview with the Mail on Sunday yesterday he called on the British people to exercise restraint when pubs, restaurants and hotels open on July 4.
He warned that if the crowded scenes on beaches during last week’s heatwave were repeated he would not hesitate to order the micro-lockdown of individual towns.
Describing the coronavirus crisis as ‘one of the biggest challenges this country has had to face in 75 years’, Mr Johnson said: ‘The Government has done some things right, but the biggest thing of all was the public doing it right.
‘I say to those people who are going out in large groups – you may think that you are immortal, that you won’t be a sufferer, but the bug you carry can kill your family and friends.
‘We want to get to a world where we are as close to normal as possible as fast as possible. I don’t want a second lockdown.’
Are we already starting to suffer a second wave of Covid-19 before the first wave has even fully subsided? Leicester has seen a surge of more than 600 cases in just two weeks, and is confronted with the prospect of an extended lockdown.
Expert agencies such as Public Health England are attributing the upsurge to a variety of possible factors, ranging from the city’s high proportion of susceptible people in BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) groups, to the possibility that residents may have rushed to mobile testing services, causing a statistical blip.
However, Leicester is only the most prominent case of resurgent coronavirus in the UK and worldwide. Across England, local authorities responsible for 36 city and county areas are reporting renewed flare-ups.
Meanwhile, Berlin, Lisbon, northern Spain, as well as South Korea and Beijing, have all seen infections bounce back after anti-contagion restrictions were relaxed.
(American figures are, of course, spiralling too. But experts say that this is down to the first wave of the pandemic continuing to roll across the US rather than secondary spikes in areas which have already been hit.)
The fear is that viral pandemic comebacks can be utterly catastrophic – and, historically, second waves have often proved far deadlier than the first. Russian flu, which swept the world at the end of the 19th century, killed around 27,000 people in Britain in the first wave.
The second, a year later, claimed 80,000 souls.
Spanish flu’s second wave in 1918 was also far deadlier – by a margin of hundreds of millions. This was not least because the flu virus evolved quickly to become much more lethal.
With Covid-19, mercifully, the opposite could be happening. UK data on patient outcomes indicates that the virus might steadily be becoming less lethal.
However, this fall in death rates may be due to other factors, such as improvements in hospital care, and the fact that many of society’s most vulnerable succumbed early in the pandemic.
What is clear, however, from the resurgent figures, is that the virus is no less contagious than before.
So long as second-wave outbreaks occur within communities that stay at least partially locked down and generally practise social distancing, new infections should remain localised.
But, if not, infections will run like wildfire, as they did in the first wave.
Unlike the first wave (which thanks to Chinese secrecy struck us all-too unprepared), the odds of a second pandemic occurring will be determined entirely by our behaviour. We have learnt much in a very short time. We now understand the R factor, and we have demonstrated that we can indeed bring it down.
We have also learnt that we can beat Covid-19 outbreaks with patience and self-sacrifice.
We are learning where new hot spots are likely to arise – meat-processing plants are a clear example, where cold, damp, crowded environments allow the virus to flourish – and thus where we should take most vigilant care.
But if we are to prevent a second wave, we must also defeat another newly emerging foe. That foe is base human instinct. Studies show that our grey matter is oddly wired when it comes to persistent threats.
Our central neurological system for responding to stress (called the HPA axis), downgrades our level of fear each time we meet the same threat.
It’s handy for parachutists. Studies show that with each parachute jump, they are less fearful. But here on the ground, familiarity often breeds contempt.
It is the contempt that pervades the street-party crowds, the football mobs and the masses queuing outside Primark to buy beachwear to flaunt at packed seaside resorts.
This contempt for the safety of others will only propel the virus again through vulnerable populations.
It is behaviour that’s the polar opposite of the patient, self-sacrificing resilience required to prevent Covid-19 returning.
And denying the threat’s existence will only make it more likely to happen.