UK rolls back easing of COVID-19 restrictions, points to rise in cases

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Groups of more than six socialize at Saint James’ Park in Westminster on September 9, 2020 in London.

LEON NEAL / Getty Images

After months of urging people to return to work, schools and pubs, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson abruptly changed course and ordered the country to contain certain social behaviors in order to help slow the surge in HIV infections. COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Mr Johnson announced that all gatherings of more than six people would be illegal from Monday, with a few exceptions. He also said the new COVID-19 marshals would patrol city centers to ensure the rules are enforced, and he cast doubt on plans to allow more people to enter stadiums and conference centers next month.

“I wish we didn’t have to take this step. But as Prime Minister I must do what is necessary, ”Mr Johnson said at a televised press conference. “These measures are not another national lockdown. The aim is to avoid a second national lockdown. Mr Johnson has given no indication of when the restrictions will be lifted, but health officials have said they could be in place for many months.

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The prime minister’s somber tone came as the country grappled with a spike in COVID-19 infections similar to what has been seen in France, Spain and several other countries in Europe. The number of daily cases exceeded 2,000 every day this week, the highest level since May. In the past week, the infection rate has dropped from 12.5 per 100,000 people to 19.7.

Infections in young people have become of particular concern. The number of weekly cases among people aged 19 to 21 has more than doubled to 54.5 per 100,000 since mid-August. Among 17 and 18 year olds, infections went from less than 20 to 48.1 per 100,000.

COVID-19 case, select European

country and Canada

As of September 7

THE GLOBE AND THE MAIL, SOURCE:

JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

COVID-19 case, select European

country and Canada

As of September 7

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

COVID-19 cases, some European countries and Canada

As of September 7

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

“It’s not just about an increase in testing, it’s a real phenomenon,” said Chris Whitty, medical director in England. He added that while hospitalization rates and death totals have remained low, that could change if the infection spreads from younger age groups to the elderly.

A similar pattern has been seen in Spain, which has recorded 260 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 in the past 14 days, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. It was the highest infection rate in Europe. France was second with 130 cases per 100,000 over the same period, while Britain had 37.

Mr Johnson has been criticized for being too slow to respond to the pandemic when it hit the country last March and too keen to reopen the economy this summer. The government’s testing program has also been called into question due to insufficient laboratory capacity, which has forced some people to travel hundreds of kilometers to get tested. And the rules around physical distancing have been vague and largely ignored. Police have only recently been given the power to break up gatherings of more than 30 people.

On Wednesday, Mr Johnson tried to balance growing concern over the spread of the virus with his desire to keep the economy open. He said schools and workplaces would be exempt from the six-person rule and added that people can still go to pubs as long as they stick to groups of no more than six once there. inside. He also pointed out that there had been few infections in schools since the children returned to classrooms last week; most universities have not yet resumed their courses.

Mr Johnson has also trusted a new testing program which he hopes will soon allow anyone to take a pregnancy-type COVID-19 test and get the results in minutes. “We hope that the” moonshot “approach will work and we will be able to provide mass testing, which will give people the freedom, the ‘pass, “Knowing that they are not infectious and can spend time with other people who are not infectious in a pre-COVID way,” he said on Wednesday, adding that a pilot program will begin this autumn.

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But health experts have said the technology does not yet exist, and it could take months to develop. “The Prime Minister’s suggestion that it will be as simple as ‘doing a pregnancy test’ that will give results within 15 minutes is unlikely, if not impossible, within the time frame he suggested to get the country back on track Said Dr David Strain, Clinical Lecturer at the University of Exeter.

Mr Johnson is also hopeful that a vaccine can be found and Britain has invested heavily in a drug developed by researchers at the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca PLC. It is considered the most promising of 200 vaccination projects worldwide, but advanced trials had to be halted this week after a volunteer fell ill. Researchers are trying to find out the cause of the disease and plan to resume testing soon.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said that while the Oxford trials showed promise, he only expected a viable vaccine next year. “We need to know if these vaccines are safe,” Sir Patrick said at the press conference. “This is the critical importance of doing these studies and why it is wrong to jump over these steps and approve a vaccine on hope.”

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