London, 22 September 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced tighter social distancing rules after a surge in coronavirus infections across Britain this month.
“We have reached a perilous turning point,” Johnson told parliament, announcing measures that he said were designed to save lives, protect the National Health Service and limit economic damage.
Johnson said the new rules in England, including limiting opening hours for pubs and restaurants and encouraging people to work from home, should last for up to six months.
“This is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March,” he said, with no closures of schools or businesses.
“We are taking decisive and appropriate steps to balance saving lives with protecting jobs and livelihoods.”
Johnson said he had phoned the leaders of devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who would be “taking similar steps.”
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said new measures were necessary but had not been “inevitable.”
Starmer highlighted the govenment’s lack of testing in the early months of the pandemic and its failure to develop an effective testing system since then. “We warned the prime minister months ago that testing needed to be fixed by the autumn,” he told parliament. “But the government didn’t listen.”
Starmer said British people were worried the government “doesn’t have a strategy,” pointing to frequent changes in rules and advice.
“This is a time of national crisis, but we need clear leadership,” he said, after claiming earlier Tuesday that Johnson was “just not up to the job.”
“With one of the highest death rates in the world, and on the threshold of one of the deepest recessions anywhere, I’m afraid there is no doubt: This government’s incompetence is holding Britain back,” Starner said in a speech to Labour members.
“They couldn’t get kids back into school in June … Their failure to protect care homes is a national scandal,” he said. “They still can’t organize a testing regime that’s even serviceable, let alone ‘world-beating.'”
Earlier Tuesday, government health adviser Colin Semple told the BBC that Britain was on track for a “worst-case scenario” that could involve tens of thousands more deaths over the winter.
The broadcaster quoted a report leaked at the end of last month from the government’s scientific advisory committee that suggested a “reasonable worst-case scenario” of 85,000 coronavirus-linked deaths this winter.
It said Semple, a professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University, spoke in a personal capacity.
The government’s chief scientific advisor, Patrick Vallance, warned on Monday that Britain could face up to 50,000 new coronavirus infections daily by next month and 200 deaths per day by mid-November without tougher measures to halt the spread of infections.
Some 14 million of Britain’s 67 million people are already covered by local lockdowns in parts of north-east England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Britain has reported some 400,000 coronavirus infections since March. Its official death toll linked to Covid-19 is nearly 42,000, Europe’s highest total.