“It does seem ironic,” said Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, “that after encouraging mass attendance at pubs, cafes and restaurants through Eat Out to Help Out, that we are now contemplating restricting or closing those activities down.”
The latest signs of the virus’s resurgent march through Britain left the government little choice. The R number, a measure of how many people on average a single patient will infect, rose to between 1.1 and 1.4, the government said on Friday, meaning that on average every 10 people infected will spread the virus to between 11 and 14 other people. Any number over 1 is a worrisome indication that the epidemic is growing.
In the week ending September 10, there were roughly 6,000 new cases of the coronavirus every day outside hospitals and nursing homes in England, the government’s official statistics authority estimated, nearly a doubling of new infections from the week before.
“We need to learn the lessons of the spring,” Susan Michie, the director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London and a member of a government advisory group, said on Twitter. Every day’s delay in implementing “measures to restrict transmission when it is increasing exponentially will be expensive in terms of health and lives in the short term and the economy in the long term.”
Mr. Johnson is considering what the BBC described as two weeks of closures or limited hours for restaurants, pubs and other hospitality businesses. Scientists said the goal appeared to be to slow down, but not stop, transmission of the virus by restricting risky, non-essential activities, like eating at restaurants.
Some government scientists, though, are pressing Mr. Johnson to go further by imposing something closer to a full national lockdown, including the closure of schools, for two weeks in October, news reports said. By implementing the closures around an October schools holiday, the scientists hope to limit the disruption of a school year that just opened in early September.