Nearly 99% of England’s 56 million people will continue to live under strict restrictions after lockdown ends in early December, the British government said Thursday. He detailed his local strategy against the pandemic.
After a month of general containment ending on December 2, England will return to restrictions imposed locally depending on the incidence of the virus, according to a three-level system of severity.
“We are now in a much better situation than before the entry into force” of the confinement, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a press conference. “But the danger has not disappeared and (…) these severe measures are the best way to avoid” a re-containment after the New Year.
“I understand the impact these measures will have, but they are necessary given the scale of the threat we face,” Health Minister Matt Hancock told MPs. He stressed that local restrictions will be stricter than those prevailing before containment in order to “keep the virus under control”.
All over England, non-essential businesses will be able to reopen and the stay-at-home instruction will be lifted. Teleworking will remain recommended in all cases.
But in areas placed in the highest alert level, such as Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Bristol and Leeds (23 million people in total), pubs and restaurants will remain closed, being able to offer only take-out. or deliveries. It will be forbidden to meet people who do not belong to his home, inside or outside, with exceptions such as in parks.
In the capital London, as in the majority of England (32 million people), the risk is considered “high” (level 2). Pubs and restaurants can only open if they serve meals, and meetings between different households are limited to six people outdoors, but prohibited indoors, prohibiting meals with friends and families at home and in restaurants.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan hailed the end of lockdown as a “welcome boost for shops and businesses forced to close as Christmas preparations begin”. But he also said he was “extremely disappointed” that the government maintained certain measures, such as the “real blow” constituted by the curfew on bars, however postponed from 22:00 to 23:00.
Only three areas, representing just 1.27% of England’s population, have been placed on the lowest “medium” alert level: Cornwall, Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly.
This ranking will be the subject of a first evaluation on December 16. Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has already warned that he would ask his city to return to level 2, saying the maximum alert level “will hit the hotel and restaurant industry very hard”.
“It is completely unfair that the government does not help companies located in alert zone three more than those located in alert zones one or two,” he added.
Populations residing in areas with the highest restrictions will, however, be offered large-scale screening, with rapid tests providing a result within an hour. Local administrations “will be able from next week to request the assistance of the armed forces” in this task, said a spokesman for the Prime Minister, the Defense Ministry holding 14,000 soldiers available for screening.
“I am absolutely convinced that in just a few months we will have a vaccine,” said Boris Johnson, hoping that “by April things will be better”.
Earlier this week, the government announced a Christmas truce, allowing a maximum of three households to gather for five days from December 23 to 27. The United Kingdom, where each region like England defines its own health strategy, is the most bereaved country in Europe with more than 57,000 deaths and 1.5 million positive cases.