UK PM Expected to Enact New Lockdown 10/31 13:18
LONDON (AP) -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to hold a news
conference alongside his top scientific advisers Saturday amid anticipation he
will announce a new national lockdown for England to stem a resurgence of the
coronavirus that has pushed the U..K.'s total confirmed cases past 1 million.
Scientists warned COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the U.K. could
soon surpass the levels seen at the outbreak's spring peak. Johnson's office
said the late-afternoon press conference would follow a Cabinet meeting to
discuss "the government's coronavirus response."
The government said early Saturday that no final decision on new lockdown
measures had been made, but Johnson was under growing pressure to act quickly.
London School of Hygiene epidemiologist John Edmunds, a member of the
government's scientific advisory group, said Saturday that cases were running
"significantly above" a reasonable worst-case scenario drawn up by modelers.
"It is really unthinkable now, unfortunately, that we don't count our deaths
in tens of thousands from this wave," Edmunds told the BBC. "The issue is, is
that going to be low tens of thousands if we take radical action now or is that
going to be the high tens of thousands if we don't?"
Official figures announced Saturday recorded 21,915 new cases confirmed in
the last 24 hours, bringing Britain's total since the start of the pandemic to
1,011,660. Britain's official death toll from the coronavirus is 46,555, the
highest in Europe, with 326 new deaths announced Saturday.
The United States, India, Brazil, Russia, France, Spain, Argentina and
Colombia have also recorded more than 1 million cases, according to a tally by
Johns Hopkins University. Scientists say the true number of cases is much
higher because not everyone with the virus is tested.
Johnson has introduced a system of local restrictions for England based on
levels of infection. But scientists say it has not been enough to tame a surge
of COVID-19 cases, and Britain is likely to join other European countries such
as France, Germany and Belgium in imposing a second lockdown.
Any new lockdown would likely see non-essential businesses close and people
told to stay mostly at home, though schools would remain open.
The measures would apply to England. Other parts of the U.K. set their own
public health measures, with Wales and Northern Ireland already effectively in
lockdown and Scotland under a set of tough regional restrictions.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Saturday that for now people in
Scotland should not travel to or from England, "except for essential purposes."
Lucy Powell, business spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, accused
the government of "dithering" and said the country was now facing a longer
lockdown than if Johnson had acted sooner.
But Johnson is also under pressure from some members of his Conservative
Party, who oppose tighter restrictions because of the economic damage they
would cause. Any new lockdown will need Parliament's approval.
Owners of businesses that have struggled to get back on their feet since the
first lockdown was eased said the impact of new closures would be devastating.
A government program that has paid the wages of millions of furloughed
employees during the pandemic ends Saturday, replaced by less-generous measures
that are likely to bring a surge in unemployment.
"People have borrowed up to the hilt and spent money in order to get
COVID-secure," said Kate Nicholls of pub and restaurant industry group
Hospitality U.K. "There is no spare capacity in the tank to be able to fund a
lockdown, even for three to four weeks."
The U.K. is recording more than 20,000 new coronavirus infections a day, and
government statisticians say the true figure is far higher. The Office for
National Statistics estimated Friday that 1 in 100 people in England, well over
half a million, had the virus in the week to Oct. 23.
Jeremy Farrar, director of medical research charity the Wellcome Trust and a
government adviser, urged swift action to avoid many more deaths.