U.K.’s Johnson Refuses to Rule Out New Lockdown Amid Virus Surge
Benches sit on an empty tourist cruise boat in view of Tower Bridge, on the River Thames in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

U.K.’s Johnson Refuses to Rule Out New Lockdown Amid Virus Surge

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to rule out putting England into a new national lockdown after Christmas, as coronavirus infections continue to rise across the U.K..

“We’re hoping very much we will be able to avoid anything like that,” Johnson told reporters on Friday, when asked if the rest of the U.K. would follow Northern Ireland and Wales in imposing tougher restrictions. “But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in recent weeks.”

Johnson’s comments came as latest data showed the so-called ‘R’ rate -- the reproduction number showing how fast the virus multiplies -- has risen above 1 in the U.K., and is within a range of 1.1 and 1.2.

The prime minister is under pressure to tighten curbs after doctors warned the relaxation of restrictions over Christmas will lead to a spike in cases and deaths. Northern Ireland is due to start a six-week lockdown on Dec. 26, and Wales is putting tighter limits on household mixing starting two days later.

U.K.’s Johnson Refuses to Rule Out New Lockdown Amid Virus Surge

England currently has a regional approach to virus restrictions, with some areas facing stricter rules than others. In tier 3, the toughest level which will cover 68% of England’s population from Saturday, bars, restaurants and indoor entertainment venues must close, but shops can remain open.

Latest data from the Office for National Statistics published Friday also showed a worsening picture. The percentage of people testing positive for the virus is rising in all four nations of the U.K. and there has been a sharp increase in London, according to the ONS’s coronavirus infection survey.

Medical experts are concerned about an increase in transmission of the virus over the Christmas period, when the government has relaxed some rules on household mixing to allow families to come together during a five-day window. Johnson urged people to keep celebrations “short” and “small” to reduce the risk.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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