Boris Johnson is dealing with intense strain to impose one other nationwide lockdown inside days, as greater than 40 international locations banned arrivals from the UK in an effort to maintain out a brand new fast-spreading variant of coronavirus.
Authorities scientific advisers warned that inaction may value tens of hundreds of lives and danger an “financial, human and social catastrophe”, with the brand new pressure spreading throughout the UK and abroad.
Ministers urged individuals to keep away from panic-buying meals as France didn’t raise its ban on freight and passengers from the UK on Monday regardless of a private attraction from the prime minister, who requested Emmanuel Macron to place apart his “nervousness” over the brand new pressure of Covid-19.
Talking at a Downing Avenue press convention, Johnson strived to reassure different world leaders that Britain had responded swiftly. “I hope that everyone can see that as quickly as we have been briefed as a authorities of the quick transmissibility of this new pressure … we lodged all the mandatory data with the World Well being Group. And we took immediate and decisive motion the very subsequent day to curb the unfold of the variant inside the UK,” he stated.
Johnson stated delays to cross-Channel freight affected a small proportion of meals coming into the UK. “As British supermarkets have stated, their provide chains are robust and strong, so everybody can proceed to buy usually,” he stated. Even so, some consumers reported queues and empty cabinets in supermarkets.
Downing Avenue insisted the measures imposed on the weekend, which positioned London and areas within the south and east of England in a lockdown-like tier 4 however left individuals elsewhere nonetheless in a position to combine on Christmas Day, may management the unfold of the variant.
However the message from well being officers and scientists was very totally different. In a joint assertion, Larger Manchester’s administrators of public well being stated anybody arriving within the area from a tier 4 space or from Wales, which can be in impact in lockdown, ought to self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days.
Instances of the Covid mutation, which is believed to unfold between individuals with as much as 70% higher effectivity, have been detected throughout the UK, and Johnson’s chief scientific adviser stated stronger curbs have been probably.
“The lesson I feel it’s a must to find out about this virus … is that it’s vital to get forward of it when it comes to actions,” Sir Patrick Vallance advised a Downing Avenue press convention alongside Johnson. “I feel it’s probably that it will develop in numbers of the variant throughout the nation, and I feel it’s probably due to this fact that measures will should be elevated in some locations in the end, not lowered.”
Since information emerged on the weekend concerning the fast unfold of the brand new variant throughout components of England, a minimum of 42 international locations have banned all flights from the UK or stated that solely their nationals could also be allowed in following a detrimental coronavirus check. They embrace: Belgium, Italy, Austria, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Hungary, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, South Africa, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Croatia, France, Malta, Sweden, Turkey, Hong Kong, Canada, India, Russia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, El Salvador, Eire, the Czech Republic, Colombia, Morocco, Chile, Finland and Argentina.
In a briefing on Monday, scientists stated that they had examined further knowledge and now had “excessive confidence” that the new pressure had a transmission benefit over different virus variants circulating within the UK.
“We nonetheless don’t perceive the precise organic mechanisms,” stated Peter Horby, a professor of rising infectious illnesses at Oxford College who chairs the federal government’s New and Rising Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag). “So there’s nonetheless numerous uncertainty about precisely the way it’s occurring, and precisely the extent of the additional transmissibility.”
Different scientists stated the variant was unlikely to be largely contained to south and east of England, and famous that the UK was heading in direction of the first-wave peak of hospital admissions and deaths, to accompany the added toll of winter on the NHS. An extra 33,364 individuals have been reported to have examined optimistic UK-wide on Monday and 215 individuals died.
As Johnson confirmed that greater than 500,000 individuals had acquired the primary dose of the one accredited Covid vaccine, scientists stated harsher measures now may save the lives of these but to be immunised.
Andrew Hayward, a professor of infectious illness epidemiology at College Faculty London and a member of the federal government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), stated the brand new variant had the potential to unfold across the UK and abroad.
“I recognise that we now have restricted journey from the tier 4 areas … however this transmission is just not solely in these tier 4 areas, it’s there at some degree throughout the nation,” he stated. “We’re simply coming into a extremely important part of this pandemic, and it makes absolute sense … to behave decisively I’d say throughout the nation, as many different international locations have accomplished, regardless of them not so far as we all know being affected by this pressure.”
Requested if it might advisable to have a nationwide lockdown, Hayward stated: “Personally, I feel it’s clearer to provide a constant nationwide message as a result of though the degrees of danger are totally different in several components of the nation, they’re nonetheless there and so they’re nonetheless substantial.
“Basically what we’re actually doing may be very a lot attempting to cut back transmission till we will defend as lots of the susceptible as attainable and that might purchase us many extra weeks, wherein we may get individuals vaccinated. I couldn’t offer you a exact estimate … however my view is it will likely be within the scale of tens of hundreds of lives.
“A rise in transmissibility, even given precisely the identical mortality fee per particular person, will result in many, many extra deaths until one will increase the effectiveness of our management measures.”
Robert West, a professor of well being psychology at College Faculty London’s Institute of Epidemiology and Well being, who sits on the advisory group on behavioural science for Sage, stated his private opinion was that the present system was “unlikely” to include the unfold of the virus.
He stated: “We have to reset our technique and transfer quickly to a zero Covid technique of the type that many have been proposing. This may contain stricter however extra rational social distancing guidelines throughout the nation, and at last doing what we must always have accomplished from the beginning – to construct the sort of check, journey, isolate and help programmes they’ve in international locations within the far east.
“It sounds costly however the different may nicely be a catastrophic collapse in confidence within the nation’s capability to manage the virus and the financial, human and social catastrophe that might comply with.”
Requested why tier 4 measures weren’t being pushed out throughout England, Johnson’s spokesman stated: “I’d level to the truth that we’ve been clear that individuals shouldn’t be travelling out of tier 4 areas, and I’d level to the modifications that we now have made when it comes to tier 4,” he stated. “We’re being clear that individuals ought to stay at house and restrict human interplay.”
Requested whether or not parliament may very well be recalled to permit offended MPs to debate the brand new measures, the spokesman stated this could solely be accomplished to ratify any Brexit deal. “If we have to recall parliament for the needs of Brexit, we’ll.”