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Tues. 11:30 a.m.: Young adults blamed as UK sees sharp spike in virus cases

Students observe social distancing with some wearing face masks, as they take part in a dance session as classes resume at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts drama school following its closure due to coronavirus, in Peckham, south London, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — The British government is facing pressure to act fast to keep a lid on daily new coronavirus infections after a sharp spike across the U.K. that has been largely blamed on party-going young adults disregarding social distancing.

Daily new coronavirus infections are now about double the level of just last week and on Monday hit nearly 3,000 for the second day running. That’s prompted speculation the British government is considering tightening some restrictions, such as reducing the number of people gathering indoors in England from the current limit of 30.

Government ministers and scientists took to the airways to urge Britons not to let down their guard.

“We’ve been able to relax a bit over the summer … but these latest figures really show us that much as people might like to say ‘Oh well, it’s gone away’ — this hasn’t gone away,” said Dr. Jonathan Van-Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer.

He said while the rise in infections is “much more marked” among people between 17 and 21, he was concerned about a “more general and creeping geographic trend” across the U.K.

“People have relaxed too much,” he said. “Now is the time for us to re-engage and realize that this is a continuing threat.”

The U.K. has Europe’s worst death toll from the virus, recording more than 41,500 deaths within 28 days of testing positive. The actual toll is believed to be far higher as the government tally does not include those who died without having been tested.

The spike in U.K. cases follows big daily case increases in Spain and France, both of whom have seen the number of COVID-19 patients being hospitalized rise over the summer. Spain saw an average of 8,800 new cases a day over the weekend, and France has been recording over 5,000 a day.

The worry is that the U.K. will also start seeing a big increase in those virus patients being hospitalized and dying.

“While young people are less likely to die from this disease, be in no doubt that they are still at risk,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told lawmakers, adding that six months after getting infected, some previously fit people are still laid low by chronic fatigue, muscle pain and breathing difficulties.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has faced strong criticism for its mixed messages since it started easing the coronavirus lockdown in late spring. It spent much of the summer encouraging people to eat out to help the hard-pressed hospitality sector and is now making the case that workers should return to their offices to help hard-hit businesses in city centers.

John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said cases are rising, though “not spectacularly,” but he’s worried about what will happen following the reopening of schools and universities.

“There are big movements afoot in the country and these will inevitably accelerate transmission,” he told Sky News. “I’m not sure we have to go back to work when we can work from home.”

The government has also been criticized for testing problems, prompting an apology from Sarah-Jane Marsh, director for the National Health Service’s Test and Trace program.

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