Boris Johnson Braces for England Lockdown as Coronavirus Cases Surge

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Boris Johnson faces being forced into imposing a national lockdown as internal government projections put the U.K. on course for a prolonged winter peak in the pandemic -- with more deaths than last spring.

The British prime minister has so far resisted a second country-wide lockdown, despite calls from the opposition Labour Party -- and his own scientific advisers last month -- to order a temporary “circuit breaker” to get the virus under control.

But new modeling by the government’s emergency scientific committee SAGE suggests the second wave of the pandemic will lead to more deaths than the first because the daily death toll will stay high for longer, even though it will peak at a lower level.

Boris Johnson Braces for England Lockdown as Coronavirus Cases Surge

The U.K. reported 310 new deaths from Covid-19 on Wednesday, following 367 on Tuesday that was the highest daily total since May. The number of daily positive cases rose to 24,701 from 22,885.

Government scientists predict that about 25,000 people will be hospitalized with coronavirus by the end of November, the Sun newspaper reported. Former chief scientific adviser Mark Walport, who still advises SAGE, told the BBC the figure is “certainly not unrealistic.”

Local Approach

Johnson has opted for a localized strategy for curbing the virus, putting regions in England with the highest infection rates into a top tier of social-distancing restrictions, including a ban on household mixing and closing pubs that don’t sell meals.

The premier is struggling to balance the demands of scientists and opposition politicians for tougher measures, against calls -- including from members of his Conservative Party -- to prioritize easing of rules to help the economy.

But the modeling suggests that the whole of England is likely to require the tightest restrictions by mid-December -- rendering Johnson’s localized approach effectively redundant.

The projections triggered further criticism of the government’s pandemic response. Ministers “missed the window of opportunity” to impose a short lockdown during autumn school holidays as the Welsh government did, Labour’s health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth said.

“I’m worried now that what we’ll see is deeper, more drastic lockdown action throughout November and December, which sadly probably does put Christmas at risk,” Ashworth told Times Radio on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, some opposition parties called for a four-nation summit -- England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland -- to agree a coordinated approach as people prepare to travel across borders back home for Christmas.

There has been “too much point-scoring between different governments across the U.K.,” Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey told the BBC.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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