London, Nov 1 (PTI) UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a second stay-at-home lockdown across England, starting from next Thursday and to run for four weeks until at least the start of December, in order to deal with the rapidly increasing coronavirus infections.
Addressing a briefing from 10 Downing Street on Saturday, Johnson said there was no choice but to be “humble in the face of nature' and unless tough action is taken now the peak of mortality in the country could be even greater than the first wave triggering a “medical and moral disaster”.
The new England-wide measures will lapse by December 2 and, unless a further intervention in the meantime, England will revert to the current three-tier localised lockdown system.
“Now is the time to take action because there is no alternative,' said Johnson.
'You must stay at home, you must only leave home for education, work if you cannot work from home, recreational exercise with one person from another household or your household, and to escape injury or harm, to shop for food and essentials or provide care for vulnerable people as a volunteer,' he said, adding that this lockdown would be less 'restrictive' than the first lockdown of earlier this year.
He also confirmed an extension to the furlough scheme until December, the wage support scheme for businesses which was set to end from November 1.
Non-essential shops and leisure and hospitality venues, such as restaurants, bars and pubs, will be required to close down. Takeaways will be allowed to stay open and people can only meet one person from outside their household outdoors.
Unlike the first complete lockdown in March, schools, colleges and universities will be allowed to stay open.
Johnson also indicated that he “sincerely” hopes that the restrictions can be lifted enough for families to come together in time for Christmas but set no further details around that.
“I am very optimistic that this will feel better by next spring,” he said, indicating no significant changes are to be expected until early 2021.
The latest lockdown plans will be tabled in Parliament next week for a debate and vote by Wednesday, for them to come in effect from Thursday.
At the Downing Street briefing, Johnson was joined by England's Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, and the government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
“Across virtually the entire country, the rate of increase is on rapid increase,” said Whitty, as he presented maps of the latest coronavirus spread across England.
“Perhaps half a million people or more are with infections, based on different models… in terms of death rates, there is potential for things to be twice as bad as the first wave,” noted Vallance, as he described the situation as a “very grim picture”.
The devolved administrations of the United Kingdom will continue to follow their own already strict lockdown policies, calling on residents to refrain from non-essential travels to and from England.
Wales is currently in a “firebreak” lockdown which is due to be in place until November 9 and Scotland’s stringent four-tier system, with Tier 4 akin to a complete shutdown, is set to come into force from Monday.
Northern Ireland, meanwhile, has been in complete lockdown since the middle of October, scheduled for a month.
Earlier on Saturday, several media reports had indicated plans for the month-long lockdown were afoot after Johnson met his most senior Cabinet colleagues on Friday to discuss the possible toughening of restrictions in light of worsening coronavirus infection rate and hospital cases.
Downing Street moved to bring forward the PM’s announcement, initially planned for Monday, in the wake of the leaked media reports.
Meanwhile, the UK recorded another 21,915 confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 1,011,660.
Another 326 people were reported to have died within 28 days of a positive test this weekend, taking its death toll past 46,500.
Documents from the government's Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M-O) revealed this week that England has breached its 'reasonable worst-case' scenario for COVID-19 infections and hospital admissions for the winter months.
The scientists warned that the number of daily coronavirus deaths in England is in line with that scenario, but 'is almost certain to exceed this within the next two weeks'.
Infection rates are currently soaring across much of Europe, prompting new forms of lockdown across Germany, France and Belgium.
The Opposition Labour Party accused the UK government of “dithering” over the issue of what has previously been described as a short “circuit-breaker” complete lockdown.
“We could have saved more of the economy and reduced the impact of [lockdown] with a shorter, earlier circuit-breaker that coincided with half term,” said Labour’s shadow business minister Lucy Powell.
Scientific advisers at the top of government believe it is now too late for a two-week national circuit-breaker to have enough of an effect and a longer national lockdown is needed to drive the reproduction number, or R value, of the virus below one. PTI AK RUP RUP RUP