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Government advisors Sage believe 'more nationwide measures are needed' as R rate goes over 1 for the first time since March lockdown

A second national lockdown could be imposed, senior Government advisers have warned, as the upper limit of the R rate pushed over one for the first time since restrictions were lifted.

The Prime Minister effectively ruled out another nationwide shutdown, stating that the option was now akin to a “nuclear deterrent”, in an interview with The Telegraph last month.

However, on Friday the Sage advisory group said Britain’s reproduction number was now between 0.9 and 1.1, with senior sources warning “more nationwide measures” may be needed.

Manchester, the country’s third largest city, has already faced a local lockdown, while Birmingham, the second biggest, is on the brink of restrictions after cases rose, leading to fears it could be only a matter of time before further national measures are imposed.

Although government experts said R was skewed by local outbreaks, and not representative of the country as a whole, they warned that a rise in hospital admissions and deaths could follow.

A senior government source said: “If it doesn’t get contained it may be that some things that have been open, you need to think about whether measures need to be taken to reverse things.

“The strategy is to manage this through local outbreak management, but if it moves in the direction of Spain, then clearly you can see what’s happening there, and in France, people are making more nationwide measures. It depends on the trajectory, and how quickly we can get on top of outbreaks.”

Another source added: “We’re looking at a pretty bumpy autumn and winter and that’s going to go in the direction of increased cases and increased outbreaks.”

Scientists fear Britain may follow countries like Spain, Europe’s fastest rising caseload, with 142 cases per 100,000 people.

The number of daily cases has risen from 150 when lockdown eased on June 21 to more than 3,000, while hospital admissions have jumped to around 750 per day.

Britain is not on such a steep trajectory, with around 11 cases per 100,000 people and just 97 admitted to hospital. But Public Health England surveillance showed case detections in England increased from 5,763 to 6,418 in the week to Aug 16, up 11 per cent.

Daily cases are nearly double the number at the beginning of June when lockdown measures were eased. Oliver Johnson, a University of Bristol professor of information theory, said: “The major concern is that R values of this magnitude do not leave a significant margin before the epidemic starts to grow in size again, and raise the possibility that some re-openings may need to be reversed to allow schools to open safely.”

On Friday, council leaders from the West Midlands held crisis talks with ministers in an effort to fend off a lockdown of Birmingham amid concern at a doubling in cases in the past two weeks.

Residents in the city could be advised to limit the number of visitors to their homes to two, under a number of voluntary restrictions proposed by Birmingham city council.

Before the talks, Ian Ward, the council leader, said there were no plans for a local lockdown or travel restrictions. Further restrictions have been placed on swathes of the North, with Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn residents banned from socialising with anyone outside their household.

Health officials said several increases were linked to younger age groups, with half of Birmingham’s cases in the last week among those aged 18-34. There are fears a rise in cases among the young will soon lead to more elderly hospital admissions and deaths.

Ministers ordered intervention in Northampton on Friday, where rates have hit 125 per 100,000. However, scientists at the universities of Leeds and Oxford said the recent increase in positive cases had not translated into hospital admissions and fatalities, even when allowing for the time lag between infections and death.

Analysis showed there should have been 35 fatalities a day by now, but just two deaths were recorded on Friday. Admissions are also continuing to fall and consultants say hospitals are “relatively empty” even in hotspots. Statisticians said other indicators suggested the epidemic was “moving in the right direction”.

Most recent testing statistics show that the seven-day rolling average for positive cases is below 1,000 for the first time since Aug 10. The latest Office for National Statistics data indicate the overall infection rate – including asymptomatic cases – is now at 0.44 per 10,000 people compared with 0.68 per 10,000 in the previous week.

Prof Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics, at The Open University, said: “My overall feeling is that there is not a major cause for immediate concern about the national position on new infections and cases of Covid-19, but that we must continue to be very vigilant.”

Police are not strict enough with those who break lockdown rules, the public believes. Results of an ONS survey published Friday showed that nearly seven in 10 (69 per cent) adults think the police should be very strict or strict in enforcing Covid-19 rules, including social distancing and wearing face coverings.

However, only 15 per cent think police are very strict or strict in enforcing the rules.