England Faces Wider Lockdown in Race to Control New Strain

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More areas of England are set to be placed under lockdown, as the new coronavirus strain puts growing pressure on hospitals.

People living in London, Essex and Kent should behave as if they have Covid-19, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in an interview with LBC radio on Wednesday.

The spread of the new variant means more parts of the country will be placed under toughest tier 4 lockdown restrictions, Hancock said. He will set out details in a statement to Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.

His comments come amid growing fears the National Health Service is at risk of being overwhelmed after the U.K. reported more than 50,000 new cases on Tuesday, the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic. The number of people being treated in the hospital for coronavirus already exceeds the peak recorded during the first wave of infections in spring.

While the government wants to keep education centers open, Hancock did not rule out ordering some high school students to be kept at home for longer. Ministers will set out details of school plans later, he said.

A widening of measures will hurt growth and increase the possibility of the U.K. officially entering a double-dip recession in the first quarter of 2021. Earlier national lockdown measures pushed the economy into its deepest recession since the Great Frost of 1709.

‘Holding Our Nerve’

Hancock said he’s confident the country will be out of the crisis by spring 2021. The arrival of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which will begin roll-out in hospitals from Jan. 4, will speed up the national recovery, he said.

“It’s a matter of holding our nerve for a few weeks,” Hancock said.

“What matters for the next few months, for the winter weeks for this country is that we keep the virus under control, protect the NHS, keep people alive, because we know the vaccine is coming,” Hancock told BBC radio later.

The Resolution Foundation said earlier this week that tighter social-distancing restrictions could make the economy 6% smaller by Easter compared with the forecast from the government’s fiscal watchdog just last month.

Any economic hit would be worsened if schools are closed. When the government re-opened them earlier this year, the Centre for Economics and Business Research estimated the move could provide a 3.3% boost to the economy and allow as many as 5% more employees to return to their workplaces.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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