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UK to outline early pub closing as virus alert level raised

22 Sep 2020 / 09:38 H.

LONDON: The UK government will on Tuesday announce new measures to curb rising coronavirus cases across England, hours after upgrading the virus alert level with top advisers warning of a surging death toll within two months without immediate action.

Under new rules to come into force on Thursday, English pubs, bars and other hospitality venues will be required to close at 2100 GMT (5:00am Malaysian Time) while food and drink outlets will be restricted to table service only.

“We know this won’t be easy, but we must take further action to control the resurgence in cases of the virus,“ a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Similar restrictions are already in place across swathes of northern and central England.

Devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to unveil their own nationwide rules imminently.

The ramped-up response follows warnings on Monday that the country could see up to 50,000 cases a day by mid-October, and a month later exceed 200 deaths every day.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said rates of infection were replicating the strong resurgence seen in France and Spain, roughly doubling every seven days.

“We are seeing a rate of increase across the great majority of the country,“ he said, urging the public to respect stricter guidelines on social distancing,“ he said.

“This is not someone else’s problem. It’s all of our problem.”

The government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre later changed its Covid-19 alert level from three to four to reflect the increase in cases.

Level three states that the epidemic is in general circulation while level four reflects that “transmission is high or rising exponentially”.

‘Great concern’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of Britain’s COBR emergencies committee Tuesday morning ahead of making a statement to parliament.

He will also address the nation on live television at around 1900 GMT (3:00am Malaysian Time) to detail how the restrictions will help flatten the upward curve in cases going into the winter months when other respiratory infections are typically high.

Following widely shared weekend pictures of young revellers out in force in British cities, Johnson called the rising infection rates “a cause for great concern”.

The country recorded another 4,368 cases on Monday, levels not seen since early May when the country was still in a stringent lockdown.

“The virus is spreading. We are at a tipping point,“ Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament, adding: “We must all play our part in stopping the spread.”

Almost 42,000 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Britain, the worst death toll from the pandemic in Europe, despite the months-long shutdown that plunged the country into unprecedented recession.

After a summer lull, when the government urged the public to frequent pubs and restaurants to get the economy moving, cases have been rising rapidly.

Johnson last week said Britain was already seeing a second wave — in line with parts of Europe — and new localised restrictions were introduced affecting millions across northwest, northern and central England.

People in England who refuse to self-isolate to stop the spread of coronavirus could face fines of up to £10,000 (RM52,000) under tough new regulations.

From Sept 28, people will also be legally obliged to self-isolate if they test positive or are told to by the National Health Service (NHS) tracing programme.

United approach?

The UK government in London controls health policy for England but the sector is a devolved issue for the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That has led to differing approaches to tackling the virus, including for quarantine for visitors from overseas.

Johnson’s office said he had calls with Sturgeon and her counterparts in Cardiff and Belfast and they would all attend Tuesday’s emergency meeting.

“They all agreed to act with a united approach, as much as possible, in the days and weeks ahead,“ a spokesman said.

The government in Cardiff earlier announced that three more areas of south Wales would be placed under local lockdown.

Meanwhile, no two households will be able to mix in Northern Ireland, the province’s First Minister Arlene Foster said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he had met local leaders in the capital Monday and would be asking the government to implement “a new London plan to slow the spread of the virus”. — AFP

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