After hitting one last round of drinking, queuing outside stores that soon closed or getting one last haircut, England’s 56 million people went into a second coronavirus lock on Thursday with more doubts about the strict policy than the first time.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson abandoned a recently introduced system of regional curbs and announced a shutdown across England, following serious warnings that hospitals could soon be overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases. The number of deaths reaches a high of six months.
But while opinion polls suggest public support for home policies is raising concerns about the effects on the economy and mental health. A large minority of 32 Conservative MPs voted against the measures on Wednesday.
When the country entered its first lockdown in the bright spring of March, support was strong. However, compliance with coronavirus measures has cracked the longer they drag in the winter, as human livelihoods increase.
“We’ll be paying for this for years,” said Joe Curran, the landlord of The Queen’s Head Pub in the Soho area of central London. “This lockdown will cost us thousands on top of thousands so far.”
A new study of more than 6,000 adults at King’s College London found that a quarter thought they had already received Covid-19 during the first wave, a much higher level of infection than government researchers estimate.
Many in the study stated that they were therefore immune and free to break the lock.
Johnson, the Conservative leader, stressed that the latest measures would end “automatically” on December 2, when England will return to a level-based system of curbs to reflect different levels of infection in individual regions.
The UK is among the world’s hardest hit countries with almost 48,000 deaths linked to coronavirus from just over one million positive cases.
A total of 492 deaths within 28 days after a positive test were registered on Wednesday – the highest number since mid-May.
England joined the other nations of Britain – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – by introducing another lockdown, in line with European nations including France and Germany.
“When I look at what’s happening now among some of our continental friends and I see doctors who have tested positive are ordered to work in Covid wards and patients who are flown to hospitals in some other countries just to get a seat, I can only reach a conclusion, Johnson told parliament.
“I am not prepared to take the risk of the lives of the British people.”
Restrictions include returning to work from home where possible and closing all unnecessary shops and services, including pubs, bars and restaurants. The schools remain open.
In English cities, crowds gathered in pubs before staff called the latest orders hours before the new curbs came into force. Hairdressers have been deluged this week and long queues snowed outside clothing stores on Wednesday.
The head of the main opposition laboratory, Keir Starmer, told Johnson in Parliament that it would be “crazy” to end the measures in four weeks if cases continue to increase.
But the prime minister pointed to a testing pilot who started in Liverpool on Friday as a precursor to a nationwide program that he hopes will finally get the coronavirus under control before a vaccine goes live.
“We hope so much (December 2) to get this country up and running again, get businesses, open stores again before Christmas,” Johnson said.
Finance Minister Rishi Sunak will describe new financial support measures on Thursday, the government said.
Also on Thursday, the Bank of England is expected to increase its cash stimulus at its latest political meeting to combat the pandemic’s economic downturn, with another £ 100 billion ($ 130 billion, € 111 billion) coming on tap.