Britain boosts aid as it tightens restrictions

Shoppers walk past a poster advising shoppers of measures against Covid-19 in Leigh, England on Oct 22, 2020.
Shoppers walk past a poster advising shoppers of measures against Covid-19 in Leigh, England on Oct 22, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Millions more people headed into coronavirus lockdowns in Britain yesterday, as the government boosted a financial support package but acknowledged failures in a hugely expensive testing programme.

Central Manchester was eerily quiet after the central government imposed its most stringent measures on the city and its surrounding region, following bitter resistance from local leaders.

The English county of South Yorkshire will also face the same "very high" alert from today, with many pubs and hospitality venues closing and residents banned from mixing with others indoors.

The latest measures add to the regions already classed as very high risk or tier three, meaning roughly 7.3 million people in England will be living under the country's most stringent restrictions from this weekend on.

In addition, the devolved government in Wales has ordered its more than three million people to stay at home from 6pm yesterday, closing non-food retailers, restaurants, pubs and hotels for two weeks.

Britain is battling to get a grip on a resurgence of Covid-19, which has killed over 44,000 people there - Europe's worst national toll.

But the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted calls for a second national lockdown, arguing that its tiered system is better suited to target regions facing the biggest threat.

On Thursday, the government improved a national jobs support scheme after businesses hit by regional lockdowns claimed it did not go far enough to replace a furlough package that expires this month.

The Treasury did not divulge the overall cost, but Mr Johnson promised "billions more".

To protect the economy and avoid more lockdowns, the government has set great store by an ambitious programme to test people for Covid-19 and trace their contacts.

The reported cost so far runs to more than £12 billion (S$21.3 billion). But the numbers of people being tested and traced are falling well short of targets, and government scientists say the programme is having only a marginal impact on controlling infection rates.

"I share people's frustrations... We need to improve it," Mr Johnson conceded on Thursday.

Scotland was expected to announce a new five-tier plan of localised measures yesterday.

Scottish national clinical director Jason Leitch has said that Scots should "get their digital Christmas ready" and prepare to be deprived of family contact through the festive season.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2020, with the headline 'Britain boosts aid as it tightens restrictions'. Print Edition | Subscribe