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UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that national restrictions could be reimposed unless the recent spike in coronavirus infections is brought under control.Speaking on Sky TV’s “Sophy Ridge on Sunday," Hancock said the U.K. is facing a “tipping point" in the battle to limit the spread of the disease. The government reported 4,422 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, the biggest daily increase since early May.

“The choice is either everybody follows the rules, or we will have to take more measures," he said. “I don’t want to see more restrictive measures, but if people don’t follow the rules that’s how the virus spreads."Hancock spoke after the government confirmed that people in England who refuse an order to self-isolate could be fined up to 10,000 pounds ($12,917). A new legal duty requires people to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus, or are traced as a close contact, starting Sept. 28.

“I’m very worried about this second wave," Hancock said. “We’ve seen in Europe it can shoot through the roof. I can’t overemphasize enough the importance of this message: we must follow rules on social distancing. That way we can avoid an incredibly difficult lockdown until the cavalry comes with a vaccine and mass testing is on the horizon."

Under Strain

In an interview on BBC TV’s “Andrew Marr show," Hancock held out of the prospect of a vaccine by the end of the year or “more likely" in early 2021.

With infections on the rise, the U.K. test and trace system is under strain and millions of people across the country have been placed under local restrictions. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned further restrictions will probably be needed “soon" in the British capital, where infection rates are the highest in the country after the northwest.

Officials in London are meeting today, amid reports that fresh curbs could be imposed as early as Monday, with Londoners once again asked to work from home if possible. Khan, who anticipates London is just days behind hotspots in the northeast of England and Manchester, is pressing for 10 p.m. curfews on pubs and a ban on mixing of households, according to the Huffington Post.

There are also reports that ministers are considering a two-week national lockdown in October as a virus “circuit-breaker." Hancock once again refused to rule out any option, but insisted country-wide measures were a “last line of defense."

Another lockdown would deliver a further blow to an economy that shrank more than any other major developed country during the pandemic.

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to fix the ailing test-and-trace program, which officials regard as vital to keep infection rates down and to give people confidence to return to work.

“If I was the prime minister, I would be apologizing for the fact that we are in this situation with testing," he told the Marr show. Starmer urged the government to reinstate its daily coronavirus press conferences.

Johnson’s office announced on Sunday that fines breaching self-isolation rules will start at 1,000 pounds, in line with the penalty for breaking quarantine after international travel, and could increase to a much as 10,000 pounds for repeat offenses and “egregious" cases. Those on lower incomes who face a loss of earnings as a result of going into quarantine will be eligible for a one-off support payment of 500 pounds.

The number of fines issued for breaking coronavirus restrictions has been relatively low, totaling 18,683 in England and Wales between March 27 and Aug. 17, according to the latest figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council. During the final four weeks of the period, only 13 fines were issued in England and none in Wales.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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