Boris Johnson puts brakes on easing UK lockdown as Covid-19 cases tick up

High-risk venues like casinos will have to wait at least another two weeks to reopen.
High-risk venues like casinos will have to wait at least another two weeks to reopen.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson slowed the easing of United Kingdom lockdown measures on Friday (July 31), warning the resurgence of coronavirus across the country must be stamped out.

The prime minister postponed plans to allow high-risk venues such as casinos, bowling alleys and ice rinks to reopen on Saturday. They will have to wait at least another two weeks, he said.

Mr Johnson also extended rules making face coverings compulsory in more indoor settings, such as museums and cinemas, and said police will enforce compliance from Aug 8.

While the premier insisted he does not want to reimpose a "full national lockdown", he said it is vital for the public to obey the rules to avoid more drastic action.

"Our assessment is that we should now squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control," Mr Johnson said in a televised press conference on Friday. "We cannot be complacent. I won't stand by and allow this virus to cause more pain and more heartache in our country."

His announcement came after ministers rushed to re-impose restrictions on more than four million people in northern England, including Manchester, barring members of different households from mingling indoors.

The prime minister said prevalence of the virus in England is at one person per 1,500, up from one in 2,000 at the start of July.

"We can't afford to ignore this evidence," he said. "Unless people follow the rules and behave safely, we may need to go further."

Wedding ceremonies can still take place, but they'll no longer be able to include 30 people, Mr Johnson said.

 
 
 

New data published by the government on Friday show the so-called R number, representing how many people each new Covid-19 patient infects, may be above the critical threshold of one in the north-west and south-west of England. Beyond that level, transmission can begin to take off exponentially.

The data also showed the number may be at or near one in the rest of England, though in London and other parts of the country, low case numbers and variable transmission "means these estimates are insufficiently robust to inform policy decisions", the government said.

England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that, if the virus is to be kept under control, the country has reached the limit for easing lockdown restrictions in place since March.

After being criticised for being slow to go into lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic, Mr Johnson's government is now rushing out new restrictions with little warning.

The announcement of renewed measures in parts of northern England on Thursday gave residents just three hours' notice of the new rules. It followed the re-imposition of quarantine on people coming from Spain last weekend that caught hundreds of thousands of tourists by surprise.

The new measures also highlight the tension between attempts to stamp down on the virus while getting the economy moving again.

From Saturday, employers will have more discretion on whether to bring workers back into their offices, a change from guidance that where possible, people should work from home.

 

And the blanket nature of Thursday's fresh restrictions on a large swathe of northern England highlights the risk that the government's test and trace system - designed to reach people who have been in close contact with newly-infected patients - may not yet be effective enough to target small localised outbreaks.