A massive surge of coronavirus cases, especially amongst young people, is behind measures to clamp down on the number of people meeting in England.
Boris Johnson has said the Government is taking “decisive measures” to tackle rising coronavirus cases by banning social gatherings of more than six people.
And a look at how the number of cases has changed in England in the last week might reveal the reasons behind the change.
The new rules come after the number of daily positive Covid-19 cases in the UK rose to almost 3,000 – figures not seen since May – but a closer look at the statistics reveals some worrying trends.
Ministers hope that the change to the law will make it easier for the police to identify and disperse illegal gatherings. Failure to comply could result in a £100 fine, which will double on each repeat offence up to £3,200.
According to Government statistics, the average weekly numbers per 100,000 has rocketed in the last week with the so-called case incidence per 100,000 going from 12.5 to 19.7.
But this rise only tells a tiny part of the story, with the level of cases among the youngest age groups being more than double that in the general population.
For those aged 17-18 years old there are 48.1 per 100,000, rising to 54.5 per 100,000 for people aged 19-21.
This is before the vast majority of England’s universities return to in-person teaching in the coming weeks.
Speaking at the press conference, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said: “If you act rapidly and decisively when these changes are happening there is a reasonable chance or a good chance of bringing the rates back under control.”
This trend is also repeated in the number of people in these age groups testing postive for the virus, where the average in England has gone up to 6% up from 2.5% a couple of weeks ago.
Those under 30 are at relatively low risk of the virus, and have made up just 1% of deaths globally.
Currently, the only group not seeing this increase is children under 17.
It was these rising statistics that sent panic through Whitehall leading to crunch meetings yesterday and the changed rules overnight.
But officials are increasingly concerned that a number of factors – including flu season, colder weather, universities returning and others are going to make it harder to contain Covid-29 , even before this recent spike.
A senior government source said: “This is the time to act.
“We’re not yet in trouble but we’re definitely heading for trouble when it comes to the potential for this having an impact on the NHS.
“We would expect there to be a difficult period over the next six months unless we get major breakthroughs like a new vaccine.”
It comes after Boris Johnson was quizzed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said over the failures in Britain’s coronavirus testing system.
During Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, Sir Keir described the “frankly ridiculous” scenario of a mother who lives in London trying to secure a Covid-19 test for her four-year-old daughter.
He said the woman was told the nearest place for a test was Telford or Inverness, before being offered Swansea as an option.
Sir Keir added: “This is frankly ridiculous. Who does the Prime Minister think is responsible for this?”
Mr Johnson said he took responsibility but suggested his opposite number was launching an “attack” at NHS Test and Trace.
“It is precisely because of the success of Test and Trace that capacity has gone up from 2,000 a month in March to 320,000 a day,” he said.
The Prime Minister said that thanks to the testing system, “we know that, alas, some people have not been following the guidance in the way that they should and therefore we are seeing a rise in infections.
“That’s why today we are taking decisive steps to intensify our social distancing measures – the rule of six that will be familiar to the country – in order that we can keep our economy going, that we can keep our schools open, and keep this virus under control.”