U.K. Warns Lockdown Could Be Tightened if Public Defy Rules


(Bloomberg) --

The U.K. will tighten a nationwide lockdown if needed to halt the spread of coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, as officials face demands to say how they will eventually lift the restrictions that have brought normal life to a standstill.

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Hancock criticized what he described as a “minority” of people who are ignoring social-distancing rules to sunbathe or gather in parks, and said the government would not hesitate to ban all outdoor exercise if current rules prove insufficient to reduce the infection rate.

“I don’t want to have to take that action, of course I don’t, but we have already demonstrated that we are prepared to take the action that’s necessary to get this virus under control,” Hancock said. “Let’s not have a minority spoiling it for everybody.”

Later, he added that stricter measures were not “imminent” but could not be ruled out. Some parks closed on Sunday after a surge in visitors, who Hancock said risked partly undoing progress made on suppressing infections.

In other developments:

  • Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood apologized for her “mistake” after she visited her second home, leading to calls for her resignation. The BBC reported she received a police warning.
  • The daily number of coronavirus deaths fell to 621 from 708 in the previous 24 hours in the U.K., bringing the total to 4,934.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in isolation with a temperature but is in “good spirits,” according to Hancock.
  • Queen Elizabeth II will address the U.K. to urge people to show resolve in defeating the virus. “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.”
  • The government said will release many as 4,000 low risk prisoners will be released from jails in England and Wales to curb the spread of the virus.

With swathes of the economy shut down, positive comments about infection rates are adding to pressure on the government to reveal its plan for exiting the lockdown.

There are “some signs” the lockdown is helping to slow the outbreak, Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London who advises the government, told the BBC. He expects the peak in about seven to 10 days.

“What is critically important then is how quickly case numbers go down,” Ferguson said. “Do we see a long, flat peak or do we, as we hope, see a much faster decline?”

Ferguson said the “precise strategy” would be formulated in the next week, but would “almost certainly” include scaled-up testing and contact-tracing.

Keir Starmer, the new leader of the opposition Labour Party, urged the government to publish its plans to end the lockdown. He told the BBC “serious mistakes” had been made but promised to work “constructively” with ministers to resolve the crisis.

Easing Rules

At a press conference on Sunday, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries suggested restrictions could be eased in some areas of the country first.

London has been the most heavily hit region and if people who have had the virus are confirmed to be immune from reinfection, some strict lockdown measures could be lifted here before other parts of England, she said.But Harries warned that “the very last thing” the government wants to risk is to “lift the lid too early” and allow a second spike in cases.

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