England faces 'extensive local lockdowns' in winter virus wave

By: AFP      Published: 04:35 PM, 29 Aug, 2020
England faces 'extensive local lockdowns' in winter virus wave
Audience members in socially distanced seats listen as musicians from the Orchestra of Opera North perform in the 'Pilot Event: Live at Leeds Town Hall', in Leeds. AFP

England could face "national action" and "very extensive local lockdowns" in the event of a winter coronavirus wave, the government said Saturday, with a "worst-case scenario" of 80,000 deaths.

"A second wave is clearly visible in other parts of the world," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Saturday's Times newspaper. "Cases go up again, and we have to use very extensive local lockdowns or take further national action. We don't rule that out but we don't want to see it."

Britain has been one of the country's hardest hit by the disease, with over 41,000 dead, but has eased lockdown restrictions recently as hospitalisations and deaths dropped. But cases have ticked up in recent weeks and the government is worried about another wave of the virus arriving during flu season.

Although more restrictions could be re-introduced, schools would likely remain open, according to a report prepared for the government by the Sage scientific advisory group and aired on BBC's Newsnight late Friday.

By November "policy measures would be put in place to reduce non-household contacts to half of their normal pre-March 2020 levels," it said.  The report found 85,000 more could die across Britain, with more than 80,000 in England alone, in a "reasonable worst-case scenario", although stressed that this figure was not "a prediction" and the data are subject to "significant uncertainty".

The estimate assumes that schools would remain open and that the government's tracing and quarantine measures will be around 40 percent effective. Carl Heneghan, from Oxford University, told the BBC that the model was "implausible" and that it assumed that "we've learnt nothing from the first wave of this disease".

The government told the broadcaster that its plans were under constant review, and were driven by the latest scientific advice.