British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is introducing a regional COVID-19 alert system in hopes of slowing an outbreak of infections that health officials say is spiraling out of control.
Britain quickly became the European epicenter of the second wave of the pandemic, with the number of confirmed cases quadrupling in the past four weeks and the daily figure reaching 13,972 on Monday. Britain reported more infections than any other European country last week, according to the World Health Organization, and there are currently more people hospitalized with COVID-19 than when the country went into lockdown. out national on March 23.
Mr Johnson has already toughened some physical distancing rules last month, including ordering all pubs and restaurants to close at 10 p.m. But those measures have been insufficient to stop the growing number of infections, especially in Liverpool, Manchester and other parts of northern England.
On Monday Mr Johnson announced a three-tier system of local restrictions – medium, high and very high – which will take effect on Wednesday and cover all of England. Anyone living in medium alert zones will need to follow existing national measures that include limiting public gatherings to six people or less. Regions on high alert will face additional restrictions, including a ban on mixing households, while pubs, casinos and entertainment centers will have to close in areas under very high alert. Three temporary hospitals in the north of England, built last spring when the pandemic started but rarely used, have also been put on high alert to reopen.
So far only the Liverpool area, home to around 1.5 million people, has been placed in the very high category, but much of the North West and North East of England has been designated high alert zone. Scotland is expected to adopt similar restrictions with Northern Ireland. Wales has already imposed tough lockdowns and travel bans in several areas.
“This is not the way we want to live our lives, but it is the narrow path we have to take between the social and economic trauma of a complete lockdown and the massive human and economic cost of an uncontained epidemic.” Mr Johnson told the House of Commons. “The weeks and months ahead will continue to be difficult and test the courage of this country.
Britain is following the lead of France, Spain and other European countries in introducing local lockdowns. France has developed a complex system of regional alerts and about two-thirds of the country is under some form of red alert. All bars have been closed in Paris, which is under maximum alert. Spain has placed severe restrictions on Madrid and some cities in Germany have started closing bars and restaurants at 11 p.m.
Putting the new alert system in place was not easy for Mr Johnson and he spent much of the weekend negotiating with regional leaders and MPs who did not want their regions to be subjected to high or very high alerts. But the discussions did little to ease the frustration.
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson has criticized the government for enforcing the ‘diktat lockdown’ and criticized Mr Johnson for not doing enough to support businesses that will be damaged by the restrictions. “In addition to protecting lives and doing things to fight the virus, we also need to protect livelihoods, which is why we have advocated very strongly for a stronger financial package. Unfortunately, this was not listened to. The city’s chamber of commerce said local businesses were “bewildered, frustrated and angry.”
Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands which includes prominent cities such as Birmingham, has expressed disappointment that his region has gone from medium alert to high alert. “This is not something that regional leaders have supported, nor what I thought would happen after long conversations in recent days,” he said. “The region was united, multi-party, to support existing restrictions.”
Mr Johnson said the measures would be reviewed every four weeks and he ruled out another national lockdown. Schools, universities and shops will remain open and Mr Johnson said the government will compensate companies by paying up to two-thirds of the wages of workers made redundant due to the new restrictions.
While most experts welcomed the three-alert system, some said the measures were confusing and did not go far enough. “The Prime Minister has chosen to retain the majority of the country with an intervention that is clearly not working,” said David Strain, clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter. “At the very high risk level there is already confusion with conflicting messages as to whether all of the suggested interventions apply universally, or only some to Liverpool. In this time of national crisis, we need clarity. Our Prime Minister has once again failed to do so.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by The Globe’s editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. register today.