Boris Johnson places England into second Covid lockdown

Essential shops and schools to stay open but hospitality venues will close

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during a press conference where he is expected to announce new restrictions to help combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain October 31, 2020. Alberto Pezzali/Pool via REUTERS

Key points

  • UK to enter new four-week lockdown from November 5 to December 2
  • All retail, leisure and hospitality venues closed bar essential shops
  • Schools, universities and courts to remain open
  • All workers who can work from home ordered to do so
  • Furlough scheme to be extended for the duration of the lockdown
  • Outbound international travel banned; travel within the UK discouraged
  • Households won't be allowed to mix indoors or in private gardens

England will enter a new four-week lockdown to tackle rising infection rates, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday.

The lockdown, from November 5 to December 2, will mean all but essential shops closed and people should no longer meet family or friends indoors. Schools, universities and courts will remain open.
"Our hope was that, by strong local action, we could get the infection rates down," Mr Johnson said. "As we've seen, we have to be humble in the face of the nature, and in this country the virus is spreading even faster than the worst case scenarios."

He added: "Now is the time to take action because there is no alternative."
Infection rate across large tracts of England is increasing and more people are being admitted to hospital.

NHS in dire straits

Boris Johnson was flanked at the press conference by his Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and his Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance.

In customary fashion, they presented a range of slides to show the path of the virus and its effect on the NHS, and to evidence subsequent policy announcements.

The chart below shows an exponential rise in hospital admissions in the 75 and over age groups - an increase which prompted Mr Johnson to intone solemnly that "the risk is for the first time in our lives, the NHS will not be there for us and our families.".

"If we do nothing, the inevitable result will be that these numbers will go up and they will eventually exceed the peak we saw in spring of this year," said Professor Chris Whitty.

Outbound international travel will also be banned, except for work, and travel within the UK will also be discouraged, except for work.

Schools the priority

One sector that will remain firmly open is education with the prime minister doubling down on his commitment that children should come first.

"My priority, our priority remains keeping people in education - childcare, schools, colleges and universities will still be open.

"We cannot let this virus damage our children's futures even more than it already has."

His comments were welcomed by Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who said: "Children only get one chance at education, and we have to do everything possible to provide continuity of learning.

"Schools also play a vital role in providing support for children with special educational needs and safeguarding the welfare of vulnerable children."

The new restrictions were predictably less welcomed by those sectors which will be forced to shut down again. In the vanguard was the UK retail sector with the British Retail Consortium putting out the following statement:

“Retail faces a nightmare before Christmas...it'll cause untold damage to the high street in the run up to Christmas, cost countless jobs, and permanently set back the recovery of wider economy with only a minimal effect on transmission of the virus."

The sector had in recent weeks been on an upwards trajectory with retail sales rebounding for the fifth consecutive month in September. Chances of a continuation of the trend in November look slim, although a slither of hope is offered through the buoyancy of the online sector.

Mr Johnson's 'three rays of sunshine'

It wasn't all doom and gloom, however, with Mr Johnson's peroration designed to uplift the nation.

Quote
I am optimistic this will feel very different and better by spring

"As we come together now to fight this second wave I want to say something about the way ahead," he said.

"People will reasonably ask when will this all end, and I am optimistic this will feel very different and better by spring.

"It's not just that we have better medicines and therapies and the prospect of a vaccine, we now have the very immediate prospect of using millions of rapid turnaround tests. Tests you can use yourself whether or not you're infectious and get the result in 10 to 15 minutes."

He revealed the Government plans "a steady but massive expansion" in the deployment of smart rapid tests which could help women to see their partners during birth. He also said the army would continue to be involved in testing trials.

In a further fillip for football fans, Mr Johnson confirmed that the Premier League - and most other elite sport - would be permitted to continue, a marked difference to the first lockdown when sports fans were deprived of action for three months.

Grim Covid milestone reached

The UK also reached one million total cases on Saturday.

Two scientists advising the UK government on its coronavirus action plan have publicly supported a new national lockdown ahead of continued local restrictions.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), speaking before the lockdown was announced, said Christmas, when families and friends could be tempted to socialise and break lockdown orders, can be made "relatively safe" with strict restrictions now.

Another Sage adviser, Professor Calum Semple, said "the tiered approach to restrictions hasn't worked particularly well".

"If [a four-week lockdown] was applied nationally and was adhered to you would see a dramatic fall in hospital admissions and that's in four weeks' time,” Prof Semple said.

The UK on Friday reported 24,405 new cases of Covid-19 and a further 274 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to government data.

Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he did not want to impose a second national lockdown because of the harm it will do to the economy.

His delay in locking down was seized upon by the UK Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, pleased no doubt to distract attention from the latest bout of internecine warfare to engulf his party following the suspension of its former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Starmer tweeted:

Following it up with the biting verdict:

France, similarly, was adamant there would be no second lockdown but President Emmanuel Macron did a U-turn in the face of spiralling infection rates.
In England, each region is placed in one of three tiers with Tier 1 being medium, Tier 2 high and Tier 3 very high.
But so far, regional restrictions have not slowed the spreading second wave.

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