UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson reimposes restrictions as COVID cases rise

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday applied the brakes on the country’s return to office and normal social life, saying the nation was at a “perilous turning point” in its fight against the coronavirus.Saying the UK must act now or face a huge second wave of the disease, Johnson announced a set of new restrictions, including forcing pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues in England to close between 10 p.m. and 5 p.m. am local time, and encourage people to work from home when possible.

“This is the time when we need to act,” he said, warning that the measures may have to stay in place for six months.

People will need to wear face masks in taxis as well as on public transport. Gatherings are reduced in size, with weddings limited to 15 instead of 30. A plan to bring spectators back to sports stadiums from October is on hold.

The UK government is also increasing penalties for non-compliance.

Commuters cross London Bridge in the morning rush hour on Monday. (Hannah McKay / Reuters)

The announcement comes a day after top scientific and medical advisers to the UK government said new coronavirus infections were doubling every seven days in the country and could reach 49,000 a day by mid-October if left unchecked to stem the tide.

On Monday, the government reported 4,300 new confirmed cases, the highest number since May.

The UK has gradually increased restrictions as cases have increased, including preventing people from meeting in large groups. But the measures are less stringent than a nationwide lockdown imposed in March, which has confined most of the population and shut down most businesses.

Britain eased its lockdown from June as cases started to decline, but that trend has now reversed.

WATCH | England sets new restrictions to curb COVID-19:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said a dangerous increase in the coronavirus has prompted stricter rules for England, but the restrictions are far from a complete lockdown. 1:35

Restrictions ‘another crushing blow’

Some lawmakers in the ruling Conservative Party are worried about tightening restrictions on business and daily life, citing the impact on Britain’s already faltering economy and the reduction in civil liberties.

Employers and workers in hotel companies are also concerned.

Kate Nicholls, managing director of trade organization UKHospitality, said before the announcement that the restrictions were “another blow” for many businesses.

But most epidemiologists believe the restrictions are needed again, and even fear the government’s plans will not go far enough.

People sit at tables outside restaurants in Soho, London. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, said the new pandemic restrictions were “another blow” for many businesses. (Henry Nicholls / Reuters)

Polls suggest a majority of people in Britain support lockdown measures to contain the virus. But they also show that confidence in the government’s handling of the pandemic has waned after testing problems, mixed messages when reopening and the high death toll in the UK.

Britain has the highest number of confirmed virus deaths in Europe, at 41,877 deaths, according to a John Hopkins University tally which experts say underestimates the true toll of the pandemic due to testing limited and other factors.

Jennifer Cole, a biological anthropologist at Royal Holloway University, said people’s behavior was “the biggest influence” on the spread of the virus.

“Most people know how to prevent the spread and, most importantly, how to prevent the spread around older or more vulnerable friends and relatives,” she said. “Basically the government is saying, ‘Stay sober, be reasonable, and the place can stay open.’ It is a carrot to encourage responsible behavior. ”

Viral alert level increased

Chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Monday raised the UK’s viral alert from three to four, the second highest level, on advice from the Joint Biosecurity Center. They said COVID-19 cases were increasing “rapidly and possibly exponentially”.

In a live televised briefing, Scientific Director Patrick Vallance and Medical Director Chris Whitty said new confirmed cases had increased slowly over the summer, but are now doubling every seven days. In other countries, such an increase quickly led to an increase in the number of deaths, Whitty said.

Whitty pointed out that infection rates are increasing in all age groups and that infections among young and healthy people will inevitably spread to friends, family and, ultimately, the most vulnerable in society. .

“It’s not someone else’s problem,” he said. “That’s our whole problem. ”

WATCH | Scotland sees tighter restrictions on COVID-19 en route:

Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was necessary to act ‘sharply’ now to curb the explosive growth of the coronavirus. 1:04

The UK reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths per day last week, up from a peak of 942 deaths on April 10.

To persuade people to stay home if tested positive, the government said it would pay low-income workers £ 500 (CAN $ 852) if told to isolate for 14 days. He also said those who would break their forties could face fines of up to £ 10,000 (C $ 17,040).

The rise in infection rates in the UK comes as lawmakers from all walks of life have criticized the Conservative government’s testing program. While ministers tout the record number of tests being performed, there are numerous reports that people have to travel hundreds of miles for tests or canceled tests because labs take too long to process them.

An app to boost viral contact tracing efforts is due to be released this week, after months of delay.

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