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Top UK scientist warns coronavirus cases now ‘increasing exponentially’ again

One of the UK government's leading scientists has warned coronavirus cases are now "increasing exponentially" once again.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), has told ITV News that the autumn will be a challenge.

Professor Edmunds, of the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said that although we are all still socially distancing far more than we were before the virus arrived, we have not "hit the sweet spot" that allows more normal economic activity and simultaneous control of the spread of the virus.

He also raised the prospect not just of more local lockdowns but also of renewed national curbs on our freedoms – because opening schools and universities would have "an epidemiological effect" everywhere.

Professor Edmunds said: "[Visiting people in homes] is quite risky…You are there for quite a long time. It is impossible to socially distance with family members, things like that.

"That is now having an effect. And we can see the epidemic is taking off again. So I don't think we've hit that sweet spot where we've been able to control the epidemic and allow the economy to return to some sort of normality. I don't think we've managed that.

"I'm quite worried that schools have just returned, cases are increasing now exponentially. They are increasing exponentially now, From a relatively low level. But they are increasing.

"Schools have gone back. Universities are high risk. They are going back in the next couple of weeks. And the government is trying to get us back into work and back on the tube and buying our sandwich from Pret a Manger, and things like that. And that will have an epidemiological effect.

"There is a degree of caution. We have not returned to what we were doing before. One of the things I do, we measure people's contact behaviour. And it has not returned to anywhere what it used to be before March. But it is returning and it does carry a risk."

Professor Edmunds also warned that as summer comes to an end, the risks of increased indoor contact are "a worry".

He added: "I didn't want us to relax measures so much that we couldn't open the schools safely without it tipping the reproduction number significantly above 1. And we are already above 1 and we've opened schools. So this is a risky period.

"This autumn will be a challenge. And I worry a lot. The epidemic continues to increase and then we have Christmas. And that is very difficult. What is Christmas? Well it's meeting with your family very close. Restaurants and pubs and stuff like that. And it's all high risk. And it's all indoors. Indoors makes a difference.”

The full report by Robert Peston will air Monday night as part of the ITV News at Ten at 10pm.

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