By S Neeraj Krishna
ENGLAND could be placed under national lockdown to arrest the “deadly serious” surge in Covid-19 cases, the government has warned.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Friday (18) that the country had “sadly seen that the number of people hospitalised with coronavirus is doubling about every eight days”.
According to the Office for National Statistics, new cases doubled to almost 6,000 a day in England.
“We do need to take action,” Hancock told the BBC.
“We want to avoid a national lockdown, but we’re prepared to do it if we need to.”
“We’re prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods.”
Hancock said could not give an “answer now” on lockdown plans, but indicated that more local measures would follow similar to curbs placed on the northeast England.
Tighter restrictions on socialising, affecting more than two million people, came into force on Friday in Northumberland, North and South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, and County Durham.
North West, Midlands and West Yorkshire regions of England, too, will see tougher rules coming into force from Tuesday.
“We are seeing cases of coronavirus rise fast in Lancashire, Merseyside, West Yorkshire, Warrington, Halton and Wolverhampton,” said Hancock.
“Local leaders in these areas have asked for stronger restrictions to be put in place to protect local people, and we are acting decisively to support them.”
Reports said the government was considering similar nationwide measures, including restrictions on hospitality and leisure outlets, as a “circuit breaker”.
“The last line of defence is national action,” he told Radio Times, adding that it can be avoided “if everybody follows the rules”.
“We know that a national lockdown works because it did last time, and we can see in the figures that this is a serious moment,” the health secretary said.
UK’s scientific adviser, reports noted, have proposed a blanket lockdown to come into force across England over two weeks in October, to coincide with English schools’ half-term holiday.
“It [national lockdown] isn’t something that we ever take off the table, but it isn’t something that we want to see either,” Hancock told Sky News.
“The country once again needs to come together and recognise there is a serious challenge. That the virus is accelerating. Unfortunately, it isn’t just cases increasing, it’s also the number of people ending up in hospital.”
Concerns were high in London, too. Peter John, the chairman of London councils, said he was “massively worried” about about local restrictions being imposed as some boroughs in the capital reached a rate of 40 per 100,000 — higher than some areas on the watchlist.
“We are seeing in London at the moment infection rate doubling every fortnight,” he told Times Radio. “It is only going in one direction and only going to speed up.”
The government, meanwhile, continued to face criticism over the failure to achieve the “world-beating” testing and tracing system it promised would be in place over the summer months. Critics and health experts have described the situation as “chaos”, with England’s system “almost in collapse”.
Hancock, however, defended the testing programme, saying the government was “doing everything we possibly can for the cavalry that’s on the horizon of the vaccine and mass testing”.