England may need tough coronavirus curbs after lockdown, adviser says

The warning comes at a sensitive time for Mr Boris Johnson, who has pledged to lift England's lockdown. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Mr Boris Johnson should consider "strengthening" regional coronavirus restrictions after England exits its second national lockdown next month, a senior government medical adviser said.

The three-tier system of social-distancing rules in place before Mr Johnson ordered a four-week lockdown to Dec 2 was not wholly effective, and a winter of tougher measures may be needed, Dr Susan Hopkins, deputy director of Public Health England, said Monday (Nov 16).

"When we look at what tiers may be there in the future, we will have to think about strengthening them in order to get us through the winter months until the vaccine is available for everyone," Dr Hopkins said in a televised briefing.

Tier 1, England's "medium" alert level that included a six-person limit on socialising, had "very little effect" on reducing virus transmission, she said.

The warning comes at a sensitive time for Mr Johnson, who has pledged to lift England's lockdown - which has seen pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops closed and households barred from mixing - as planned in December.

He says he wants to revert to the regional response to Covid-19 outbreaks so life can be as normal as possible for Christmas.

But his officials haven't ruled out tighter curbs for some regions when the blanket national measure expires.

Much will depend on the data, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday it's too early to assess the impact of the second lockdown on infection rates.

Dr Hopkins's comments raise the prospect of tough restrictions being brought back into areas where Covid-19 cases remain high, a suggestion likely to anger members of Mr Johnson's Conservative Party who are demanding the government focus on reopening the economy.

The prime minister met online with Tory lawmakers representing districts in the north of England who are worried promises of investment in their regions will be forgotten as a result of the pandemic.

The discussion addressed "the disproportionate impact Covid is having on our communities and on our region's economy," the group said after the meeting Monday evening.

Mr Johnson demonstrated to them "his determination to ensure the North is at the heart of this Government's agenda and his ambition to 'level up' our communities remains a priority," they said.

Mr Hancock said the UK has secured an initial agreement for 5 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine made by Moderna Inc. that, if approved, would be available from the spring.

Moderna said earlier its vaccine is 94.5 per cent effective in a preliminary analysis of a large late-stage clinical trial.

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