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Health Secretary Matt Hancock declined to rule out a second national lockdown and said the acceleration of coronavirus cases and hospital admissions across the U.K. represents a “big moment” for the country.
“I have learned over the last nine months not ever to rule anything out,” Hancock told BBC radio on Friday, when asked about reports ministers are considering a lockdown in October as a virus circuit-breaker. “We want to avoid national lockdown altogether, that is the last line of defense.”
With daily Covid-19 cases running at levels last seen in May, the U.K.’s test and trace system isunder strain and millions of people across the country have been placed under local restrictions to limit the spread of the disease. The resurgence poses a major dilemma for the government, which is trying to keep the transmission rate down while stimulating an economy that slumped more than any other major developed country during the pandemic.
On Friday, new restrictions on socializing were imposed on large areas of northeast England, adding to measures in place in the northwest and parts of the Midlands. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s scientific advisers have proposed a second national lockdown lasting two weeks to coincide with the October half-term in schools, the Financial Timesreported.
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Hancock said the country faces “serious times” as he urged people to obey the rules on social distancing and mingling. But he said a second lockdown “is not the proposal that’s on the table.” Asked if scientists are saying schools and business don’t need to be closed, he replied: “that’s right.”
“The strategy is to keep the virus down as much as is possible, whilst protecting education and the economy and doing everything we possibly can for the cavalry that’s on the horizon,” he said, referring to efforts to develop Covid-19 vaccines, new testing technologies and treatments.
From Friday, people in parts of northeast England are banned from mixing with members of other households in private homes and gardens, and leisure and entertainment facilities can’t open between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., the Department for Health said in a statement. The areas covered are Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham.
Meanwhile, the Evening Standard newspaper reported that data due for publication Friday will show a surge in cases in London to about 25 per 100,000 from 18.8, putting the capital on track for further curbs within the next two weeks.
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