British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a new month-long lockdown for England after being warned that without tough action a resurgent coronavirus outbreak will overwhelm hospitals in weeks.
On the day the UK passed 1 million confirmed Covid-19 cases, Johnson made a sudden about-face and confirmed that stringent restrictions on business and daily life would begin on Thursday and last until December 2.
He said at a televised news conference that “no responsible prime minister” could ignore the grim figures.
“Unless we act, we could see deaths in this country running at several thousand a day,” said Johnson, who was hospitalised earlier this year for a serious case of Covid-19.
Under the new restrictions, bars and restaurants can only offer take-out, non-essential shops must close and people will only be able to leave home for a short list of reasons including exercise. Activities ranging from haircuts to foreign holidays must once again be put on hold.
Unlike during the UK’s first three-month lockdown earlier this year, schools, universities, construction sites and manufacturing businesses will stay open.
As in other European countries, virus cases in the UK began to climb after lockdown measures were eased in the summer and people began to return to workplaces, schools, universities and social life. The Office for National Statistics estimated on Friday that 1 in 100 people in England, well over half a million, had the virus in the week to October 23.
Johnson had hoped a set of regional restrictions introduced earlier in October would be enough to push numbers down. But government scientific advisers predict that on the outbreak’s current trajectory, demand for hospital beds will exceed capacity by the first week of December, even if temporary hospitals set up during the first peak of the virus are reopened.
The scientists warned Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths could soon surpass the levels seen at the outbreak’s spring peak, when daily deaths topped 1,000. The government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said the mortality rate had “potential to be twice as bad, if not more” than it was during the pandemic’s first European wave, if nothing was done.