U.K. could see new lockdown as coronavirus cases surge

The British government is considering imposing a new national lockdown for England, after its scientific advisers warned that hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus could soon surpass the levels seen at the outbreak’s spring peak when daily deaths surpassed 1,000.

London School of Hygiene epidemiologist John Edmunds, a member of the government’s scientific advisory group, said Saturday that cases were running “significantly above” a reasonable worst-case scenario drawn up by modelers.

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“It is really unthinkable now, unfortunately, that we don’t count our deaths in tens of thousands from this wave,” Edmunds told the BBC. “The issue is, is that going to be low tens of thousands if we take radical action now or is that going to be the high tens of thousands if we don’t?”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has introduced a system of local restrictions for England based on levels of infection. But scientists say it has not been enough to tame a surge of COVID-19 cases, and Britain is likely to join other European countries such as France, Germany and Belgium in imposing a second lockdown.

The Times of London reported that Johnson could announce a month-long lockdown as soon as Monday, though the government insists no decisions have been made.

Any new lockdown would likely see non-essential businesses close and people told to stay mostly at home, though schools would remain open.

The measures would apply to England. Other parts of the U.K. set their own public health measures, with Wales and Northern Ireland already effectively in lockdown and Scotland under a set of regional restrictions.

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Coronavirus: French President Macron orders nation back into COVID-19 lockdown

Lucy Powell, business spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, accused the government of “dithering” and said the country was now facing a longer lockdown than if Johnson had acted sooner.

Owners of businesses that have struggled to get back on their feet since the first lockdown was eased said the impact of new closures would be devastating.

A government program that has paid the wages of millions of furloughed employees during the pandemic ends Saturday, replaced by less-generous measures that are likely to bring a surge in unemployment.

“People have borrowed up to the hilt and spent money in order to get COVID-secure,” said Kate Nicholls of pub and restaurant industry group Hospitality U.K. “There is no spare capacity in the tank to be able to fund a lockdown, even for three to four weeks.”

The U.K. is recording more than 20,000 new coronavirus infections a day, and government statisticians say the true figure is far higher. The Office for National Statistics estimated Friday that 1 in 100 people in England, well over half a million, had the virus in the week to Oct. 23. On Saturday the country is likely to surpass 1 million confirmed cases since the outbreak began.

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The U.K. has Europe’s highest coronavirus death toll at more than 46,000.

Jeremy Farrar, director of medical research charity the Wellcome Trust and a government adviser, urged swift action to avoid many more deaths.

“The best time to act was a month ago but these are very tough decisions which we would all like to avoid,” he tweeted. “The second-best time is now.”

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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