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22 Oct 2020 20:15
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  •   Home > News > Politics

    How did the UK end up back on the brink of a second national coronavirus lockdown?

    Despite pleas from some scientific advisers, the UK Government is refusing another nationwide lockdown to contain a rapid rise of coronavirus cases that could see the nation hit 50,000 new infections a day by next month. Here's what they're trying instead

    With ominous warnings that the UK could be facing 50,000 new coronavirus cases a day by mid-October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a raft of new restrictions to try to contain the spread of the disease.

    Cases of COVID-19 fell from a peak of more than 5,000 a day in April to about 600 in early July, but infections are on the rise across Europe and the UK is not immune.

    On Tuesday the UK recorded 4,926 new cases, and daily hospital admissions for COVID-19 in England have more than doubled in the past fortnight.

    But despite urgings from some government scientific advisers to order a two-week "circuit-breaker" national lockdown, Mr Johnson has instead announced a mixture of restrictions for England that he warned could last for up to six months.

    He also warned there could not be any complacency.

    "After six months of restrictions, it would be tempting to hope the threat has faded and seek comfort in the belief that if you have avoided the virus so far then you are somehow immune," Mr Johnson said.

    "That sort of complacency could be our undoing. if we fail to act together now, we not only put others at risk but jeopardise our own futures with the more drastic action that we will inevitably be forced to take."

    In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced even tougher measures than those imposed on England, banning visitors to homes and riding together in cars.

    The 'back to work' drive is off

    Last month Mr Johnson launched a major drive to persuade more staff across England to "get back to work" to save struggling retailers in town and city centres.

    The Government's advice to work from home was officially dropped, and employees were encouraged to go back to the office if possible.

    The message was backed by front page stories on some daily newspapers with ministers warning people to "go back to work or risk losing your job".

    That edict has now been reversed, with people who can work from home in England urged to where possible.

    But those in key public services and where working from home is not possible, such as construction and retail, should continue to go into work.

    The advice does not change in Scotland or Wales, as both nations never encouraged people to return to work during the epidemic.

    There are restrictions on pubs (but they won't be closed)

    There were joyous scenes as pubs, bars and restaurants were allowed to re-open in England at the start of July but they were followed by fears that with schools reopening in September, this would have to be reversed to keep the infection rate down.

    Despite the spike in new infections, these businesses will be allowed to keep trading but will have to shut by 10pm from Thursday under new nationwide restrictions, and only table service will be allowed.

    This is on top of the "rule of six" which venues will be required by law to enforce as well as social distancing.

    "I am sorry this will hurt many businesses just getting back on their feet," Mr Johnson told Parliament.

    The spike in coronavirus infections corresponded with the Government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which saw diners given a 50 per cent discount on the meal if they ate in a restaurant or pub between every Monday and Wednesday in August.

    It is hoped shutting pubs and bars earlier and stronger enforcement of guidelines will slow the spread of the disease among young people in uncontrolled environments.

    Mandatory face masks and larger fines

    Face masks have been mandatory on public transport, for taxi passengers and those shopping.

    That will now be extended to retail workers, taxi drivers and hospitality workers and their customers — unless they are seated at a table to eat or drink.

    The penalty for not wearing a mask in those circumstances will be doubled to 200 pounds (A$354) for the first offence, and this will also apply to those caught breaking the "rule of six" — which limits gatherings to no more than six people.

    Business breaking COVID-safe rules could be fined up to 10,000 pounds (A$17,700), and more funding will be provided to police and local authorities to enforce the rules.

    No crowds for sports, wedding numbers cut

    British sports fans had been hoping to gradually return to stadiums from October 1 as professional football, rugby league and union return for new seasons but that has been put on hold.

    Amateur indoor sports that involve more than six people will also end.

    Weddings will only be allowed to have a maximum of 15 people in attendance, while funerals will be allowed to remain at a maximum of 30 people.

    Scotland will go further by restricting two households from mixing, bringing it into line with Northern Ireland which introduced a similar ban on Monday.

    What if the R number does not reduce?

    While the new restrictions stop well short of the full lockdown imposed by the UK Government on March 23, Mr Johnson warned more measures could be imposed if the spread of the virus was not suppressed.

    "I must emphasise that if all our actions fail to bring the R (number) below one, then we reserve the right to deploy greater firepower with significantly greater restrictions," he said.

    "I further want to avoid taking this step, as do the devolved administrations, but we will only be able to avoid it if our new measures work and our behaviour changes."

    He also said military support could even be drawn in to help police freed up for a greater presence on the streets of the UK.

    With a further 37 people dying from COVID-19 on Tuesday — the highest recorded number since July 14 — Mr Johnson and his Government will be hoping the measures are enough to ensure scenes of soldiers on the streets of London do not come to fruition.

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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