U.K. Marks One Year Since Start of First Covid Lockdown
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. is marking one year since the start of its first coronavirus lockdown, as the government reflects on the best and worst of its response to the pandemic.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will privately hold a minute’s silence Tuesday for more than 126,000 people who have died from Covid-19 in the U.K., the fifth-biggest death toll in the world according to Bloomberg’s Covid-19 tracker.
It comes as the country’s health service presses on with a vaccination program that has seen more than half of all adults receive their first dose of the vaccine, by far the fastest of all European countries.
For Johnson’s government, the vaccine roll-out is a chance at redemption after a year punctured by indecision over imposing coronavirus restrictions and a faltering start to the U.K.’s test-and-trace system.
“The last 12 months has taken a huge toll on us all, and I offer my sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones,” Johnson said in an emailed statement. “Today, the anniversary of the first lockdown, is an opportunity to reflect on the past year -- one of the most difficult in our country’s history.”
Praising the “great spirit shown by our nation,” he said everyone had played their part, including those who had home-schooled their children and stayed at home to prevent the spread of the virus.
Coronavirus cases in the U.K. fell fast following a peak in infections that threatened to overwhelm hospitals over the winter, but there are now signs the pandemic is shrinking more slowly.
The reproductive rate of the virus, known as the R rate, increased slightly last week to between 0.6 and 0.9. The rate represents the average number of people that each positive case goes on to infect: anything above 1 means the virus is spreading.
As Covid-19 infections begin to soar once again in a number of European countries, Johnson warned on Monday that the U.K. would feel the effects of this “third wave” in “due course.”
“When a wave hits our friends, I’m afraid it washes up on our shores as well,” he said in a pooled TV interview Monday.
An imminent influx of fresh cases could spell trouble for the government’s “road map” of unlocking restrictions, starting with allowing up to six people -- or two households -- to gather outside from next Monday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government is considering how strict its border measures will be over the summer to prevent importing virus cases from abroad, because it does not want to undermine its vaccination program.
“The last year has probably been the hardest in a generation,” Hancock told the BBC on Tuesday. “Thankfully at this point there is now hope.”
Members of Parliament are set to vote on renewing the Coronavirus Act, which was brought in last year to enshrine the first lockdown, on Thursday. But Johnson will face a rebellion from some of his own Conservative colleagues on extending restrictions they believe cause serious harm to people’s wellbeing and livelihoods.
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