Govt Says New English Lockdown Could Last Longer Than Month

A new four-week coronavirus lockdown in England will be extended if it fails to reduce infection rates, the government said Sunday, as it faced criticism over the abrupt decision to shut down again.

The second national lockdown, hastily announced late Saturday following warnings hospitals could be overwhelmed within weeks, is set to come into force from Thursday and end on December 2.

But senior minister Michael Gove said the government would maintain the stringent measures if the R rate — the number of people one person with the virus is likely to infect — remained above one.

“With a virus this malignant, and with its capacity to move so quickly, it would be foolish to predict with absolute certainty what will happen in four weeks’ time,” he told Sky News.

“And so therefore of course we will review what requires to be done but we have a clear plan over the next four-week (period),” he added.

Under the new rules unveiled by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, people must stay at home except in cases where exemptions apply, such as for work, education or exercise.

In contrast to the months-long UK-wide lockdown earlier this year, schools, colleges and universities will remain open.

But pubs and restaurants will shut unless serving takeaway food, while all leisure and entertainment venues and non-essential shops will close.

The ramped-up response came as Britain surpassed one million cases, after announcing nearly 22,000 new infections Saturday.

The government’s scientific advisors have warned Covid-19’s prevalence, and resulting hospitalisations and deaths, are rising faster than their most dire predictions.

They cautioned that under the current trajectory, intensive care units and ventilator capacity could be overwhelmed by early December while winter deaths could be double the current toll.

Britain is already among the hardest-hit countries in Europe, with total Covid-19 related deaths nearing 47,000, after another 326 fatalities were announced.

Some European neighbours and the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already re-imposed partial lockdowns to try to cut their surging virus rates.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces that England has to go back into coronavirus lockdown as cases surge British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces that England has to go back into coronavirus lockdown as cases surge Photo: POOL / Alberto Pezzali

Last month, the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) recommended a two-week national “circuit-breaker” lockdown over the half-term school holidays this past week.

But Johnson, who is responsible for health policy in England only, resisted the move, opting to persevere with a system of localised restrictions.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour party who last month backed the circuit-breaker, said the delay meant the lockdown would now be longer and harder on people.

“The government was too slow in the first phase of the pandemic and now it’s been too slow again,” he told the BBC.

Starmer called on ministers to improve the faltering contact tracing system to ensure the shutdown ends early next month.

“There will be no effective exit on the second of December unless the government uses this time to fix test, trace

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UK govt stands firm on local measures despite virus surge

The British government on Thursday vowed to persist with localised coronavirus restrictions, despite fresh data showing surging numbers of cases and deaths across the country, and new national lockdowns in its European neighbours.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick conceded statistics showed Britain was in a “bad place”, with nearly 25,000 new cases registered on Wednesday.

But he indicated that ministers were still opposed to another nationwide lockdown and said targeted action was “the best way forward” given varying rates of infection.

“We will continue with our localised but proportionate approach on taking action where the virus is strongest,” he told Sky News television.

“Despite the fact the virus is rising across the country it is very concentrated in some places nonetheless.”

France announced Wednesday it will begin a new month-long national lockdown while Germany — with lower case rates than Britain — will also roll out drastic new curbs.

The Republic of Ireland shut down again last week, as did Wales, following in the footsteps of Northern Ireland which went into a four-week partial lockdown earlier this month.  

In contrast in England, where health policy is set by the UK government, three tiers of restrictions remain in place depending on local infection rates.

But even the highest “tier three” falls short of ordering people to stay at home.

Figures released on Thursday estimate that about 100,000 people are catching the coronavirus every day.

Cases are doubling every nine days and rising in all age groups and regions, according to the ongoing study by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI.

The R rate — which indicates the number of people one person with the virus is likely to infect — has risen to 1.6, it said.

Britain is also seeing a sharp increase in virus mortality rates.

Another 310 deaths of people who had tested positive in the prior 28 days were reported Wednesday — the second consecutive day of more than 300 fatalities.

– ‘Nationwide repositioning’ –

Britain is already the hardest hit country in Europe, with more than 45,000 fatalities among those testing positive.

But excess deaths registered during the pandemic suggest the toll could be nearly double that.

The worsening situation is now presenting a serious challenge to Prime Minister Boris Johnson “whack-a-mole” strategy of targeted local action in virus hotspots.

Earlier this year, Johnson was criticised for a slow response to the outbreak, delaying locking down Britain even as the number of positive cases and deaths spiralled across Europe.

He eventually imposed a national lockdown in late March, shutting all non-essential shops and schools, and forcing millions to work from home to cut transmission rates.

The stay-at-home measures were lifted in June as cases dwindled but numbers began to climb again from September.

That month, the government’s top scientific advisers recommended a national “circuit-breaker” lockdown over schools’ half term holidays this week.

But Johnson has so far resisted.

World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoy David Nabarro said Johnson’s localised efforts had been “very effective” at slowing

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