UK's Johnson considering new national lockdown for England

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[October 31, 2020]  By Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering imposing a new month-long national lockdown in England next week after scientists said the coronavirus was spreading faster than their worst predictions, a government official said.

The pandemic is spreading in most parts of Britain, where the official death toll of 46,299 is the highest in Europe.

The prime minister has called a cabinet meeting for later on Saturday and the new measures are still under discussion with no final decision made, the official said. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland run their own policies on fighting the pandemic.

Johnson is expected to hold a news conference on Monday to announce the new measures, which would allow only essential shops and schools, nurseries and universities to remain open, The Times newspaper said.

The prime minister's office declined to comment.

The decision to impose a national lockdown would represent a dramatic change of policy for the prime minister who has insisted for months he did not believe such a move would be necessary.

Johnson said two weeks ago he wanted to avoid the "misery of a national lockdown" as he defended his strategy of imposing a patchwork of local restrictions.

But the government's scientific advisers are warning COVID-19 infections are rising so fast that unless something can be done to reduce infections, the "reasonable worst case" scenario of 80,000 dead could be exceeded.

Currently, the government has a three-tier system of restrictions for local areas in England, with Level 3 the highest.

'Running riot'

A member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said on Saturday that the virus was "running riot" across all age groups.

"For the naysayers that don't believe in a second wave, there is a second wave," Calum Semple, a professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, told the BBC.

"And unlike the first wave, where we had a national lockdown which protected huge swathes of society, this outbreak is now running riot across all age groups."

Any move to impose another national lockdown is likely to face opposition from Conservative lawmakers who are concerned over the economic, social and health costs of the biggest curtailment of freedoms since World War Two.

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Commuters travel through Vauxhall underground station, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London Britain, October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

John Redwood, a member of parliament and a former cabinet minister, said he is "full of foreboding" about the possible new restrictions and he expects lawmakers will be able to vote on the measures.

A new lockdown would heap more pressure on finance minister Rishi Sunak and the Bank of England to increase their already huge support for the UK economy, the world's sixth-biggest. The economy slumped a record 20% in the spring and has been struggling to maintain its recovery.

In the current system, Tier 3 includes a ban on mixing of people in different households, pubs and bars are closed, wedding receptions are not permitted, and travel to or from the area should be avoided.

Some analysts have said the regional restrictions on businesses imposed in recent weeks will cause the economy to contract again in the fourth quarter and a national lockdown would inflict greater damage.

France and Germany announced national lockdowns earlier this week, while in Northern Ireland closed schools for two weeks and restaurants for four weeks from Oct. 16.



Wales is in the middle of a two-week lockdown in which everybody apart from essential workers must stay at home, except for very limited purposes, such as for exercise. In Scotland, millions of people from Monday face a continued ban on indoor socialising, drinking in pubs and travel restrictions.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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