A quiet Buckingham Palace in London, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Yui Mok – PA Images
The U.K. looks set to extend its lockdown measures into early or perhaps even late May, just as other European coronavirus hotspots start to lift some restrictions on businesses.
The number of deaths in U.K. hospitals now stands at 11,329, according to Johns Hopkins University, up by 717 from the previous day. In total, the U.K. has almost 90,000 confirmed cases of the virus. The number of deaths could be much higher as there are concerns over the extent of outbreaks in U.K. care homes.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains off work as he recovers from a serious coronavirus infection that saw him admitted to an intensive care unit in a London hospital. He left hospital Sunday, telling the British public that “it could have gone either way” and that he owed the National Health Service his life.
He is now recovering at his country residence Chequers with no time frame in place for when he could return to work. In the meantime, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab is deputizing for the prime minister as questions are being raised over just how long the U.K.’s lockdown, now in its fourth week, will last.
On Monday, Raab said that it was too early to lift restrictions, commenting at the U.K. government’s daily press conference that “we’re still not passed the peak of this virus so please continue to follow the advice now more than ever to stay home, save lives and protect our NHS.”
He said that while the U.K.’s approach to the coronavirus was working, measures had to remain in place: “Keep this up, we have come too far, lost too many loved ones and sacrificed too much to ease up,” he said.
Raab said a group of scientific advisors would meet this week to review the effectiveness of social distancing and lockdown measures; In the U.K., non-essential businesses are closed with the public advised to stay indoors unless they need to buy food or fetch medicines or to exercise once a day.
Raab said changes to restrictions would not be made unless the government was confident “that any such changes can be safely made.” No date has been given for the lifting of lockdown measures but they are not expected to be lifted until early May, if not later that month.
The U.K.’s Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance said Monday that the U.K. was following the same trajectory as Italy (which has seen 20,465 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University) and he would expect the number of cases and deaths to increase this week, and thereafter to see a plateau that “may last for some time” and then start to decrease.
The Times newspaper reported Tuesday that Britain will remain in lockdown for another three weeks and that Raab will announce on Thursday that the lockdown will stay in place until at least May 7.
An exit strategy to lifting the lockdown comes down to weighing up the economic and health consequences of both maintaining restrictions and lifting them.
It’s been reported that Finance Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel are pushing for restrictions to be lifted sooner rather than later, given the respective pressures their departments face. But Health Secretary Matt Hancock is anxious that measures aren’t lifted too early, potentially prompting an influx of coronavirus cases and more pressure on already severely-stressed hospitals and their staff.
On Tuesday, more evidence emerged that the extent of deaths in the U.K. could be significantly higher than reported. The Office of National Statistics reported that deaths in England caused by the coronavirus by April 3 were 15% higher than previously reported NHS numbers.
“The latest comparable data for deaths involving COVID-19 with a date of death up to April 3, show there were 6,235 deaths in England and Wales,” Nick Stripe, head of health analysis at the Office for National Statistics, said Tuesday morning, Reuters reported.
In the meantime, some European countries, among them Italy and Spain which have been some of the worst affected by the coronavirus, are now looking to lift some restrictions on public life as the number of new infections and daily deaths decline.
Spain allowed some construction and manufacturing sites to reopen Monday and Italy is also allowing some businesses, including bookshops and children’s clothing stores, to reopen Tuesday. In Austria too, garden centers and home improvement stores, as well as some other small businesses, are re-opening Tuesday. Denmark is opening primary schools and kindergartens on Wednesday with Norway reported to be considering a similar move.
France is also being cautious, President Emmanuel Macron telling the public in a televised address Monday that measures will not be lifted until May 11. He said progress was being made but the epidemic was not yet under control in some parts of France.