British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London on November 10. Associated Press
LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced plans for strict regional measures to tackle COVID-19 after England’s lockdown ended on December 2, sparking a rebellion from members of his own party who say the move could do more harm than good.
Johnson’s office said on Saturday night the government plans to revert to a three-tier system of restrictions, with areas subject to different measures depending on the severity of their outbreaks. While a much-criticized 10pm curfew in bars and restaurants is likely to be changed, the levels will likely include tighter restrictions than when they were first used in October, even as more communities are expected to change. be placed in the two highest viruses. alert categories.
Some of Johnson’s Conservative Party allies immediately called for an impact assessment of the proposed restrictions so that lawmakers can weigh the health benefits against the damage to the economy, mental health and relationships.
Steve Baker, one of 70 lawmakers who wrote to Johnson expressing concerns, said he could not support the approach unless the government can show that restrictions planned after December 2 will have have an effect on reducing the transmission of COVID-19, “and will save more lives than it costs.” “
Johnson’s cabinet will meet on Sunday to work out the details of the plan before the Prime Minister presents it to the House of Commons on Monday. Parliament must approve the plan before the new measures take effect.
The debate comes as hope grows that vaccines may finally provide a way out of the pandemic, and public health officials say restrictions on social and business interactions across the UK have started to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Johnson’s office has confirmed plans to start a nationwide vaccination program next month, assuming regulators approve a COVID-19 vaccine. The government also says it will increase mass testing to combat the virus.
In the meantime, restrictions on daily life will continue during the Christmas period.
“We will be going back to a tiered system, which is a much better way to tackle this problem with a localized approach,” Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak told Sky News. “And when it comes to Christmas, I think as frustrating as for all of us, Christmas will not be normal this year. ”
The original three-tier regional approach was introduced on October 12 as the government attempted to control an increase in COVID-19 cases without resorting to a nationwide lockdown.
Under these rules, the highest level of restrictions forced pubs and bars to close and people were advised not to travel outside of their communities. The second level prohibited people from meeting indoors with anyone outside their home. Even at the lowest level, bars and restaurants were forced to close at 10 p.m. and meetings of more than six people were banned.
Now Johnson plans to step up those measures.
The government’s science advisory group, known as SAGE, is expected to issue reports on Monday showing the original three-tier strategy was not strong enough and recommending tighter restrictions on its return.
The regional approach was put on hold in November when Johnson finally imposed a lockdown on England. The move came after public health officials warned that an exponential increase in new coronavirus infections threatened to overwhelm the National Health Service as the winter flu season approached.
The lockdown closed non-essential businesses like many stores, gyms, bars and restaurants. It has also banned most social gatherings, but schools remain open.
New confirmed cases of COVID-19 have started to decline across the UK, with the number of positive tests in the past seven days dropping 13.8% from the previous week. Authorities reported 2,861 COVID-related deaths in the past seven days, 17 fewer than a week earlier. Yet the infection rate remains high at 244 cases per 100,000 people.
The UK has the deadliest COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, with more than 54,700 deaths.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told reporters on Friday that while the lockdown was successful in slowing the spread of the virus, people should continue to follow the rules.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, has warned that any gain from the November lockdown could quickly be lost to a virus that only takes “seconds” to spread.
People should “keep the pressure on this virus and push it as much as possible until the end of the (lockdown) period,” he said.