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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Announces Four-Week England Lockdown

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a second national lockdown for England to prevent a “medical and moral disaster” for the NHS.

He said Christmas may be “very different” but he hoped taking action now would mean families can gather.

Pubs, restaurants, gyms and non-essential shops will have to close for four weeks from Thursday, he said.

But unlike the restrictions in spring, schools, colleges and universities can stay open.

After 2 December, the restrictions would be eased and regions would go back to the tiered system, he said.

Mr Johnson said: “Christmas is going to be different this year, perhaps very different, but it’s my sincere hope and belief that by taking tough action now we can allow families across the country to be together.”

The prime minister told a Downing Street news conference that he was “truly, truly sorry” for the impact on businesses, but said the furlough system paying 80% of employee wages will be extended through November.

“No responsible prime minister” could ignore figures which suggested deaths would reach “several thousand a day”, with a “peak of mortality” worse than the country saw in April, Mr Johnson said.

He said hospitals even in the south-west of England, where cases are among the lowest, will run out of capacity in weeks.

“Doctors and nurses would be forced to choose which patients to treat, who would get oxygen and who wouldn’t, who would live and who would die,” Mr Johnson said.

Under the new restrictions:

People are being told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, such as work which cannot be done from home and education
People are allowed to exercise outdoors alone, with their household or with one other person
Meeting indoors or in private gardens will not be allowed
Pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential retail across the nation will close but takeaways and click-and-collect shopping can remain open
Leisure and entertainment venues, including gyms, will also close
Construction sites and manufacturing workplaces can remain open
People are still allowed to form support bubbles
Children can move between homes if their parents are separated
Clinically vulnerable people are asked to be “especially careful” but people are not being asked to resume shielding
Mr Johnson, who chaired a cabinet meeting on Saturday afternoon, will make a statement to Parliament on Monday.

The UK recorded another 21,915 confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 1,011,660.

Another 326 people were reported to have died within 28 days of a positive test.

The UK is the ninth country to reach the milestone of a million cases – after the US, India, Brazil, Russia, France, Spain, Argentina and Colombia.

But the true number of infections is expected to be higher due to a lack of widespread testing at the start of the pandemic.

Prof Neil Ferguson, whose modelling was crucial to the decision to impose the first lockdown, said keeping universities and schools open meant infections would decrease more slowly this time.

He said the new restrictions could reduce cases by anywhere between 20% and 80%, adding that he hoped larger groups of people would be able to gather by Christmas “if only for a few days”.

Mr Johnson had previously resisted pressure to introduce nationwide restrictions, saying they would be “disastrous” for the UK’s finances and opting instead for a three-tiered system targeting local areas in England.

Ahead of the news conference, school and university unions called for education institutions to be closed and for teaching to move online in another national lockdown.

The National Education Union said it would be “self-defeating” to ignore how schools helped to spread the virus.

And “the health and safety of the country is being put at risk” by the insistence on keeping in-person teaching on campuses, the University and College Union said.

The government was advised to bring in a form of lockdown in England by its scientific advisory group on 21 September.

Instead, it opted first for 22:00 closing of pubs and restaurants.

This was followed a few weeks later by its tier system where the greatest restrictions would be placed in the worst-hit areas.

Purely from a public health point of view, a lockdown when the experts advised it would have been the sensible thing to do.

It would have been shorter, brought cases down more quickly and given the test-and-trace system a chance to catch up with the rise in cases.

But minsters had to consider the economic impact as well as the politics. They had hoped their light touch approach might have been enough to control the spread of the virus while preserving jobs and businesses.

Many scientists on the scientific advisory group were deeply sceptical at the time that this would work.

All of them appreciate the difficult decisions ministers are faced with and none of them take any satisfaction from having been proved right.

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The British Chambers of Commerce said the new restrictions would be a “devastating blow” to businesses, which were in a weaker position now than they were in March.

Director general Adam Marshall said the government must increase business support and “must not squander” the extra time bought by another lockdown.

Elsewhere in the UK, Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said the 17-day “firebreak” there will end as planned on 9 November.

He said that his cabinet will meet on Sunday to “discuss any potential border issues for Wales in light of any announcement by No 10”.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has issued new advice that people should not travel to or from England, except for essential purposes, ahead of the nation’s five-level system of restrictions coming into force on Monday.

The lockdown decision for England comes as scientists warned the NHS could be “overwhelmed within weeks” and documents suggested the UK was on course for a much higher death toll than during the first wave.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said the current restrictions were not enough to stop the virus spreading and without action, “there’s absolutely no doubt that many more of us would have seen loved ones die, suffer with long-term Covid symptoms or from other illnesses”.

Documents seen by the BBC, understood to be part of a presentation by the government’s pandemic modelling group SPI-M shown to Mr Johnson, show projections by several different groups of the likely course of the disease.

All models predict that hospitalisations are likely to peak in mid-December, with deaths rising until at least late December before falling from early January.

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