British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to Downing Street on 13 October, 2020 in London, England.
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Pressure is mounting on the U.K. government to impose a strict, short, mini lockdown to act as what’s been called a “circuit breaker” on the coronavirus.
Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour party, added to scientists’ calls for a two to three-week lockdown as infections rocket in the country.
Starmer accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of ignoring expert advice after reports emerged Tuesday that the government’s chief scientific advisors said several weeks ago that the country should go into a mini national lockdown to stop the spread of the virus.
The Labour leader said the government’s current plan — which includes the Covid-19 “alert system” that was introduced on Monday, and which designates the risk level in areas of England according to their infection rate — was “not working.”
A “circuit breaker” introduced now could straddle the school’s mid-term holiday in late October but would require “significant sacrifices,” he said at a press conference Tuesday.
A mini lockdown would not involve schools, Starmer said, but would allow only essential travel and working from home if at all possible. Household mixing would be restricted to one household and pubs, bars and restaurants would have to close for two to three weeks, as well as Parliament returning to remote working, Starmer said.
The call for further measures comes as parts of the country are already under local lockdown, banning household mixing in indoor settings. The majority of England is at a “medium” risk level, however, which means that the basic restrictions are in place, limiting social gatherings to no more than six people and forcing pubs and restaurants to close at 10 p.m.
The strictest lockdown measures came into force in the northern city of Liverpool on Wednesday, as it was placed in the “very high” alert category by the government amid a surge in infections there. Pubs and bars that don’t serve food must close, as well as gyms, leisure centers, betting shops, adult gaming centers and casinos. Household mixing either outdoors or indoors is banned and travel into and out of areas deemed “very high” risk is not advised.
Despite the pressure on the government, Johnson and senior lawmakers have been reluctant to introduce a full lockdown for fear of more economic damage.
A government minister played down the prospect of another nationwide lockdown, however. Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told Sky on Wednesday, “I do not believe that the prime minister wants to set off on a national lockdown, but as ever he is advised by scientists – he takes that decision.”
Bars open their doors on the final night in Liverpool, north west England on October 13, 2020, before new local lockdown measures are introduced.
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Papers released on Monday showed that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which provides scientific advice to the government at times of crisis, had advised the government to go further with restrictions — and suggested a lockdown three weeks ago. They also suggested banning households from mixing indoors and the closure of all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gyms and hairdressers.
The U.K. has the third-highest number of infections in Europe, after Spain and France, with 637,708 confirmed cases of the virus and over 43,000 deaths, the worst tally in Europe, according to Johns Hopkins University.
U.K. government data showed a further 17,234 people tested positive for the virus on Tuesday, up from 13,972 reported Monday. The seven-day average number of infections reached 14,972 on Oct.10, up from 11,994 a week before.