What is likely with a national lockdown?

England is set to go into a nationwide lockdown next week as a way of combating a second wave of the coronavirus, according to newspaper reports.

Here, the PA news agency looks at what the public can expect.

– What is happening?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce on Monday a nationwide lockdown for England which could be introduced on Wednesday and last until December 1, according to The Times. Earlier reports on Friday suggested Tier 4 restrictions would be imposed, putting half the country’s population into lockdown, but meetings between the PM, ministers and health experts decided on the need for a more stringent move.

A national lockdown still needs to be signed off on by Cabinet, but it appears likely to be approved.

HEALTH Coronavirus
Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK. See story HEALTH Coronavirus. Infographic PA Graphics. An editable version of this graphic is available if required. Please contact graphics@pamediagroup.com.

– What has brought this on?

It has become clear in recent weeks that Covid-19 is now spreading faster than the worst predictions of scientists. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey found cases “continued to rise steeply” in the week ending October 23, with an estimated 568,100 people becoming infected.

Government scientists now believe at least 50,000 new cases of Covid-19 are occurring in England daily, and deaths could reach 500 per day within weeks.

They believe it is now too late for a two-week national circuit-breaker to have enough of an effect, that Tier 3 restrictions are not sufficient, and that a longer national lockdown is required to drive the reproduction number, or R value, of the virus below one.

The moves are also designed to address the problem of pressure on the nation’s hospitals to cope with a second wave. A recent meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) found the rate of infections and hospital admissions was now “exceeding the reasonable worst case scenario planning levels”.

– What will the national lockdown look like?

It is still to be finalised, but it is likely everything will be closed except essential shops and education facilities, which includes nurseries, schools and universities. Tougher measures for the most affected regions are also being considered.

– What is the envisaged end point?

As ever, while the world waits for a vaccine, the idea is to return the country and economy to normal as soon as is feasible.

Professor Jeremy Farrar, an infectious diseases expert and Sage member, tweeted: “The sooner we get on top of the disease, reduce transmission, R<1, the sooner we can get our society back to normal and the economy back on track.”

The best time to act was a month ago but these are very tough decisions which we would all like to avoid. The second-best time is now. The sooner we get on top of the disease, reduce transmission, r<1, the sooner we can get our society back to normal & the economy back on track.

— Jeremy Farrar (@JeremyFarrar) October 30, 2020

– Is England alone in this?

No. Second waves are hitting hard in various countries.

France, Germany and Belgium this week announced national lockdown restrictions. President Emmanuel Macron said France was in danger of being “overwhelmed” by a second wave that would be “harder than the first”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of a long, hard winter ahead.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the continent was “deep in the second wave”. Countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic, which were not too badly affected the first time around, are now suffering sharp increases in infection rates.

Camilla visits Paddington station – London
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was among those who met with Boris Johnson on Friday to discuss the lockdown (Justin Tallis/PA)

– Are nationwide lockdowns effective?

It appears so. The UK, Italy, Spain and France imposed national lockdowns when badly hit by the first wave. They were able to ease restrictions in early summer, including reopening travel involving countries on “safe” lists, but this was followed by rises in cases in the late summer, which have now increased dramatically, bringing the push for the lockdowns to be reimposed.

– How are other battles going?

Plans to increase Britain’s testing capacity at least appear to be on track. Mr Johnson promised this would reach 500,000 per day by the end of October, and latest figures show it has hit 480,000.

Pharmaceutical companies continue to work to find a vaccine. While it is difficult to predict when one will be available, the head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce, Kate Bingham, this week told The Guardian there was a glimmer of hope one of the leading candidates could be approved by Christmas.

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