Britain extends COVID-19 lockdown measures for at least three more weeks

Britain extends COVID-19 lockdown measures for at least three more weeks

UK coronavirus
Medical staff prepare to test a NHS worker at a drive through NHS COVID-19 testing facility at Hopwood Hall College in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Devlin)

LONDON: Britain extended its nationwide lockdown for at least another three weeks on Thursday (Apr 16), as stand-in leader Dominic Raab ordered Britons to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We have just come too far, we've lost too many loved ones, we've already sacrificed far too much to ease up now, especially when we are beginning to see the evidence that our efforts are starting to pay off," he told reporters.

Raab is standing in while Prime Minister Boris Johnson recuperates from COVID-19. Raab chaired an emergency meeting on Thursday to review scientific evidence on the impact of the existing lockdown.

Dominic Raab
Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign affairs Dominic Raab arrives in Downing Street, as the spread of COVID-19 continues. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

READ: 'Things could have gone either way': British PM Johnson discharged from hospital as UK deaths pass 10,000 mark

"Based on this advice ... the government has decided that the current measures must remain in place for at least the next three weeks," he said. "Relaxing any of the measures currently in place would risk damage to both public health and the economy."

The United Kingdom has the fifth-highest official death toll from COVID-19 in the world, after the United States, Italy, Spain and France, though British figures only cover hospital fatalities and the real number is probably much higher.

The announcement, which had been widely expected, means Britons must stay at home unless they are shopping for basic necessities, or meeting medical needs. 

Citizens are allowed to exercise in public once a day, and can travel to work if they are unable to work from home.

The measures were announced on Mar 23 for an initial three-week period. Medical advisers speaking alongside Raab said they had reduced the overall rate of transmission of the virus to below one, meaning it was now shrinking in the community.

Raab set out five loose conditions which must be met for the lockdown to be lifted, but refused to discuss any possible timeline.

Earlier, Health minister Matt Hancock warned the virus would "run rampant" if restrictions were lifted too soon.

A YouGov poll conducted before Thursday's announcement showed 91 per cent of Britons supported a three-week extension to the lockdown.

SUN WILL SHINE AGAIN

The United Kingdom's death toll from COVID-19 in hospitals rose 861 to 13,729, as of 4pm local time on Wednesday.

Restrictions across the globe have effectively closed down much of the world economy, and the United Kingdom is heading towards its deepest depression in three centuries.

As leaders around the world begin to contemplate ways to exit the shutdown, epidemiologists have cautioned that a second wave of the outbreak could endanger the weak and elderly.

Professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London Neil Ferguson, who advises the government, said Britain would probably have to maintain some level of social distancing until a vaccine for the coronavirus is available.

"If we relax measures too much then we will see a resurgence in transmission," he told BBC radio. "If we want to reopen schools, let people get back to work, then we need to keep the transmission down in another manner."

GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley said on Wednesday that a vaccine was unlikely to be ready before the second half of next year.

READ: The world will need more than one COVID-19 vaccine, GSK CEO says

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Source: Reuters/de

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