£10,000 fines warning for failing to self-isolate as Covid infections soar | Coronavirus outbreak
People in England who refuse to self-isolate when required to do so will face fines of up to £10,000 under an emergency “carrot and stick” plan to control the second wave of Covid-19 sweeping the country.
With infections rising at rates last seen before the full lockdown in March, around four million people on low incomes and in receipt of benefits, who cannot work from home, will also be given special “stay home” payments of £500 to compensate for lost earnings over their two-week isolation periods.
Many regional leaders – including the mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, and public health officials – have been arguing for months that such support was needed because people struggling to get by on low earnings believed they could not afford to self-isolate, and were not doing so. This has resulted in the virus becoming “endemic” in some deprived areas of the north of England.
From 28 September, under the emergency package announced by the prime minister last night, people will be required by law to self-isolate if they test positive or are contacted by the test and trace system as having been in contact with an infected person. Fines will start at £1,000, rising to £10,000 for “egregious” offences and serial offenders.
More police resources will also be directed to find offenders in high-incidence areas. Officers will be told to act on tips from neighbours.
“People who choose to ignore the rules will face significant fines,” said Boris Johnson.
“We need to do all we can to control the spread of this virus, to prevent the most vulnerable people from becoming infected, and to protect the NHS and save lives.
“And while most people are doing their absolute level best to comply with the rules, I don’t want to see a situation where people don’t feel they are financially able to self-isolate.”
The new measures were announced as evidence mounted that the Covid-19 second wave was spreading quickly from the north of England, with infections rising at worryingly high rates in London.
Whereas a few days ago, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was being told by officials that the capital was two weeks behind infection hotspots in the north-east and north-west, his latest modelling suggests it may only be lagging by two or three days.
Khan is pushing ministers to introduce restrictions in London that have been recently applied in large areas of the north-west and north-east, including closing pubs and restaurants at 10pm, and rules under which people are banned from mixing with others outside their households in homes or gardens.
The mayor is also exploring the possibility of asking everyone who can work from home to do so, directly contradicting the “back to work if you can” approach pushed by Johnson at the start of this month.
On Saturday there were a further 4,422 confirmed Covid-19 cases across the UK – the first time the daily total has topped 4,000 for two consecutive days since early May.
Johnson has said he is desperate to avoid a prolonged new national lockdown. But this weekend he and his ministers are considering further measures including a two-week “circuit break” in which new and tougher rules would be enforced to try to check the virus’s revival.
Scientists urged ministers not to repeat the mistakes of the first lockdown and, in particular, to take action to protect people in care homes.
Epidemiologist Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University said: “The lockdown failed to protect the people who most needed protecting, such as those living in care homes.
“So if we’re going to act, we should do so sooner rather than later; don’t let it interfere with the normal functioning of the NHS and lastly prioritise the protection of the vulnerable, otherwise we will repeat the mistakes of the first lockdown.”
Graham Medley, the government’s chief pandemic modeller and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said: “The prevalence of infection is increasing across the UK.
“Epidemiologically, the situation is similar to that in late February or early March. Decision-makers will have to act fairly quickly.
“Hospital admissions are increasing, and will continue to increase for about two weeks after transmission is reduced.”
He also warned that a large fall in the number of test results returned within 24 hours was a big issue that could help the disease to spread: “The delay in turnaround of results is a critical issue, and more important than a cap on the number of tests.
“Especially for contact tracing, significant delays in testing mean that contacts of positive cases are not traced or are traced too late to prevent pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic transmissions.”
Today, as Labour opens its virtual party conference, Keir Starmer calls on the government to put “children at the front of the queue” for coronavirus tests and to give parents a cast-iron guarantee that they can get their child a test within 24 hours, and the result back 24 hours later.
Speaking in advance of the conference, he said: “If the prime minister does not get a grip of the testing crisis, children will be robbed of an education. We are seeing a growing flood of school closures.
“The testing regime is not working, nor does it appreciate the unique challenges many families are having to cope with.”
Khan will tell the conference that “Labour is now the party of competence” and that the local and mayoral elections next May will be the first opportunity for the British people to send a message to the government and to hold it accountable for its mistakes.