A specialist in infectious diseases has said the new lockdown in England may not be enough to tackle the new coronavirus variant.
Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, said the threat from the virus is “at least as bad as we were back in March”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Hayward said: “I think the virus is different and it may be that the lockdown measures we had are not enough, so we need to learn from the new insights and new technologies, we need to learn from the last lockdown and particularly some of the things we saw.”
He said that this new lockdown needs to “bear down on the virus in a way that can protect key workers – for example, we could be using the lateral flow (tests) and working with employers to offer regular testing to key workers.
“We have millions of these and key workers will still be out there and we can protect them and reduce rates in key workers through that method, especially if we also make sure we pay for their isolation when they’re infected.”
The chair of the country’s Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association said the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed in the next few weeks is “very, very high”.
Dr Claudia Paoloni said if that happens “anyone with any condition may not be able to access the care that they need.”
Last night, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a third national lockdown for England to combat the spread of coronavirus.
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In a televised address, he said the new variant, which is 50% to 70% more transmissible, was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” manner.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak announced this morning that businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are to be given a one-off grant worth up to £9,000, with the measure costing £4 billion across the UK.
“This will help businesses to get through the months ahead –and crucially it will help sustain jobs, so workers can be ready to return when they are able to reopen,” Mr Sunak said.
In addition to the grants, the government will provide £594 million of funding to the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are also bringing in stricter measures, including school closures.
Meanwhile, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said that he could not say precisely when the lockdown, announced as lasting six weeks, would be lifted, warning of “very, very difficult weeks”.
The measures will be reviewed from 15 February, he said, but the government cannot “predict with certainty” whether they will be lifted then.
“I think it is right to say that as we enter March we should be able to lift some of these restrictions but not necessarily all,” he added.
Mr Gove also said that A Levels and GSCE exams will not go ahead this year andalternative arrangements will be put in place.
He said the UK could impose new restrictions on international travel. Currently quarantine is compulsory for those arriving from some countries but not virus testing.
Mr Gove said he had discussed this with the leaders of the other UK nations, adding: “We will be coming forward very shortly with new proposals.”
Britain has been among the worst hit in the world by the outbreak, with some 2.7 million cases and 75,431 deaths.
Additional reporting AFP/Reuters