LONDON – For weeks, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted calls for a nationwide blockade of England. But now, in the face of grim predictions of a sharp rise in the death toll from the coronavirus, he is weighing plans to lock the country for a month.
The plan was previewed in several British newspapers on Saturday, but it is volatile and may still not be able to achieve a complete national lockdown. But medical experts warn that if the government does not take drastic action, the spread of the virus will soon overwhelm hospitals.
As in March, when the virus first swept Europe, the British response lags behind its European neighbors. Mr. Johnson has been trapped by Conservative Party members and scientific advisers. His Conservative Party members believe that another blockade will destroy the economy, which he believes is inevitable given the exponential spread of the virus.
“They have no choice,” said Devi Sridhar, head of the Global Public Health Program at the University of Edinburgh. “Today is better than tomorrow, and yesterday is better than today.”
Taking into account the lockdown, bars, restaurants and other unnecessary businesses will be closed for up to a month, but schools and offices will remain open. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have enacted such restrictions, making England an outsider outside the UK.
So far, the Prime Minister’s approach has been to implement targeted blockades in hotspots such as Liverpool and Manchester, while allowing less affected areas such as London to operate more or less normally.
Mr. Johnson called the strategy “a timely rescue of the rifts in nine countries,” although it did not reassure the governments of the hard-hit cities that had complained that the government had unfairly selected them.
But the latest figures show that tailor-made methods are no longer sufficient.
The government’s scientific advisory group, SAGE, estimated earlier this month that there were 43,000 to 75,000 new infections per day in England, a rate higher than the worst-case scenario calculated in previous weeks.
The expert group said that hospitalizations also occurred before the worst, and raised suspicions that the National Health Service will not be able to cope with the influx of patients within a few weeks. This may cause the number of virus-related deaths in the UK to exceed the 85,000 estimated by scientists this winter.
Last Friday, the United Kingdom reported 24,405 new infections, and 1,489 were admitted to hospitals due to symptoms of the virus-caused disease Covid-19. There were nearly 1,000 patients in the intensive care unit and 274 deaths.
The total death toll caused by the virus in the UK is 58,925, one of the highest deaths in Europe.
Political debates have started on how to contain the virus. The leader of the opposition Labor Party, Keir Starmer, called on Johnson two weeks ago to implement a two-week lockout, which scientists said would become a “breaker” in the transmission chain. He cited a report by SAGE to warn that the UK is facing a “huge epidemic with disastrous consequences”.
Mr. Johnson accused Mr. Stammer of failing to consider the economic consequences of this move, which caused influential cabinet ministers including Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to sound the alarm.
Analysts say that if Johnson immediately imposes a blockade now, it may hurt him in the party because it looks like he is succumbing to opposition pressure. But opinion polls show that the British public is more sympathetic.
The government may propose a November embargo to save Christmas. By lowering the transmission rate, it can relax the December limit and allow family and friends to celebrate together.
British newspapers are full of headlines about whether Johnson will “cancel Christmas.” He has always insisted that college students be reunited with their families during the holidays.
Although medical experts generally praised reports of the impending lockdown, some people questioned why the government did not take action, as suggested by public health experts, during the mid-term end of school that began earlier this month.
Others said that the government has not yet repaired its testing and tracking system, which is still far from reaching its goals. Experts say that unless this is done, the UK will not be able to determine and attempt to break the chain of transmission, laying the foundation for further outbreaks after the blockade is lifted.
Ms. Sridhar said: “You can use locks to build testing and tracking records.” “We will stay in these cycles of locks and releases until they decide that we cannot tolerate this virus because it is killing our economy.”