Boris Johnson Plans Overhaul of England’s Covid Rules After Lockdown

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s officials are considering plans that would end targeted local lockdowns, with tougher restrictions instead placed on broader regions of England next month.

As things stand, England is in a nationwide lockdown that Johnson has promised will end on Dec. 2. That is when officials expect the country will return to pandemic rules where curbs are designed to fit local infection levels.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, British officials said the system was set to be redrawn to make the rules tougher. According to one official, restrictions could be imposed on larger areas, instead of targeted at individual towns. The plans are not yet finalized.

All this would represent a significant shift in approach. It could spark a local political backlash if data shows that districts where infections are falling are being forced under the same tougher regulations as areas where coronavirus is raging. The Department of Health declined to comment.

Boris Johnson Plans Overhaul of England’s Covid Rules After Lockdown

For months Johnson resisted calls for a second national lockdown, fearing that shuttering shops and restaurants would wreck the economy. But soaring infection rates and warnings that the national health service would be overwhelmed forced him to impose a four-week closure starting Nov. 5.

It comes as countries from Germany to France are considering ways to contain a pandemic they underestimated.

The rate of growth in infections in the U.K. is slowing, according to latest data, which ministers say is a positive sign that England’s second national lockdown is working. Johnson is expected to set out his plan next week, officials said.

National Health Service Medical Director Stephen Powis said it will be up to politicians to decide which rules will be needed when lockdown ends. “We will not be going back to normal; further restrictions will be required,” Powis said Friday.

England’s Three-Tier Lockdown Rules
  • Level 1 - Medium: gatherings limited to a maximum of six people; pubs and restaurants must close at 10 p.m.
  • Level 2 - High: people banned from mixing indoors with other households
  • Level 3 - Very High: pubs and bars will be closed; tighter ban on household mixing; advice against travel
  • Schools and retail will remain open throughout

Authorities in England became concerned in recent months when previous rules meant that people traveled from areas of tougher restrictions where bars were closed to socialize with friends nearby where pubs were open. Bolton in northwest England had tougher curbs imposed in early September to deal with a surge in cases, banning people by law from socializing with others and restricting pubs and restaurants to takeaways.

Other areas did not have such restrictions -- which meant many people simply visited neighboring towns to meet up with friends. David Greenhalgh, Tory council leader in Bolton, told The Guardian in September the hospitality ban was “not working” as people were walking “half a mile down the road” to pubs outside Bolton that were allowed to open.

Susan Hopkins, deputy director of Public Health England, piled pressure on Johnson to tighten the rules in a televised briefing Monday.

“When we look at what tiers may be there in the future, we will have to think about strengthening them in order to get us through the winter months until the vaccine is available for everyone,” she said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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