Britain’s coronavirus infection rate could be almost 10 times worse than official figures show, a world health expert has warned.
There were 3,991 new cases confirmed on Wednesday, about 50 per cent more than a week ago. At the height of the pandemic in April the numbers peaked at between 6,000-7,000.
Antony Costello, a former director at the World Health Organisation, spoke out as new local lockdown measures are expected for England’s north east and new restrictions to close restaurants early are considered.
“I’m hearing from a well-connected person that government now thinks, in absence of testing, there are 38,000 infections per day,” he tweeted.
Initially, he tweeted that Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is advising a new two-week national lockdown but he later stepped back that comment.
Publicly, government leaders are not speaking about a second lockdown but they are talking about ways to reduce the rising number of new cases.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a rise in deaths would follow the infection spike. He also said tough action was needed now to avoid a second wave and to save Christmas from lockdowns.
If coronavirus is allowed to rip across the country it will kill "an awful lot of people", he warned.
In the north-east, about two million people live in the area being considered for a local lockdown that could be in place as early as today.
One option is to close restaurants and bars early, and London's public health chief has warned the capital could also have a local curfew.
In the north-west, Adrian Philips, chief executive of Preston city council, fears his region could be next.
"The rate continues to rise. We don't want pubs and restaurants and our city centre to close at 10pm but we think it ever more likely," he told the BBC's Today programme.
"We know the government, even a number of months ago, said to keep schools open it might be essential for pubs to close."
In Wales, a new two-week local lockdown has kicked in for Rhondda Cynon Taff county.
Health minister Edward Argar said there has been a "significant" increase" in infections in the north-east.
"What we're seeing is spikes in infection rates that suggestion transmission of diseases is increasing."
"When that infection rate is at that level and R rate creeps above one. We are seeing this disease start transmitting again, and we have to do everything we can to press down on those rates.
"We don't want to see a second national lockdown. The way to prevent that is by following the rule of six."
When asked specifically about Prof Whitty and plans for a second national lockdown, he said: "It is not something I have heard from Chris."
Mr Johnson said efforts must be made not to ensure lockdown orders are not needed around Christmas.
"Christmas we want to protect, and we want everyone to have a fantastic Christmas. But the only way to make sure the country is able to enjoy Christmas is to be tough now. So if we can grip it now, stop the surge, arrest the spike."