LONDON British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to end a lockdown across England as scheduled on December 2 and will announce a return to regional restrictions as statistics show coronavirus infections have stabilized.
Johnsons office has also confirmed plans to launch a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program next month, assuming regulators approve a vaccine for the virus. The government will also increase mass testing in an attempt to suppress the virus until vaccines can be deployed.
Johnsons office said on Saturday evening the government plans to revert to a three-tier system of localized restrictions in England, with areas subject to different lockdowns depending on the severity of their outbreaks. More communities are expected to be placed in the two highest viral alert categories, he said.
The government has placed England under a four-week lockdown that began on November 5. Cabinet is due to discuss the plans on Sunday, and the prime minister intends to give parliament the details on Monday, the statement said.
The UK as a whole has the worst death toll from the virus in Europe, with more than 54,700 deaths.
Johnson announced the lockdown in England on October 31 after public health officials warned that an exponential increase in new daily coronavirus infections threatened to overwhelm the National Health Service as the winter flu season approached . The lockdown has shut down non-essential businesses like many shops, gyms, bars and restaurants, although take-out is allowed. It has also banned most social gatherings, but schools remain open.
New known cases of COVID-19 have started to decline across the UK, with the number of positive tests in the past seven days dropping 13.8% from the previous week. Some 2,861 COVID-related deaths have been reported in the past 7 days, 17 less than a week ago. Yet the infection rate remains high at 244 cases per 100,000 people.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told reporters on Friday that the lockdown has been successful in slowing the spread of the virus, while stressing that people must continue to follow the rules to reduce cases.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the government’s deputy medical director, has warned that any gain from the November lockdown could quickly be lost to a virus that only takes seconds to spread.
People should keep the pressure on this virus and push it as much as possible until the end of the (lockdown) period, he said.
The government’s science advisory group, known as SAGE, is expected to issue reports on Monday showing Johnson’s previous three-tier strategy was not strong enough and recommending tighter restrictions on his return.
Under this system, a medium alert level forces restaurants and pubs to close at 10 p.m. and prohibits residents from mixing in groups of more than six. The high level prevents people from congregating indoors with anyone outside of their household or the extended support bubble. “
In areas with a very high alert, pubs and bars may only remain open and serve alcohol if they are accompanied by a large meal. People are advised not to enter or leave these areas.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
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