Britain puts brakes on re­open­ings

With coro­n­avirus cases ris­ing, gov­ern­ment im­poses new re­stric­tions amid wor­ries of a sec­ond wave

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY WIL­LIAM BOOTH AND MIRIAM BERGER wil­liam.booth@wash­post.com Berger re­ported from Washington. An­to­nia Farzan in Washington, Love­day Mor­ris in Ber­lin and Karla Adam in Lon­don con­trib­uted to this re­port.

LON­DON — Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son told Eng­land on Fri­day that it must “squeeze that brake pedal” and post­pone eas­ing some coro­n­avirus re­stric­tions for at least two weeks, amid a wor­ry­ing uptick in in­fec­tions.

The Bri­tish are mov­ing two steps for­ward, one step back, es­sen­tially, like other coun­tries in Europe now. All are try­ing to re­vive their economies and give cit­i­zens back their free­doms, while de­fend­ing them­selves against a full-blown resur­gence of the virus.

In re­sponse to out­breaks, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment on Thurs­day night an­nounced new re­stric­tions af­fect­ing 4 mil­lion peo­ple in north Eng­land. A ban on gath­er­ings of any size at pri­vate homes ap­plies to greater Manchester and parts of Lan­cashire and West York­shire. That means peo­ple can’t visit friends’ houses — or even have a one-on-one chat in a friend’s back­yard. They can still go to pubs and restaurant­s, but only with mem­bers of their own house­holds.

The prime min­is­ter has said he is try­ing hard to avoid an­other na­tional lockdown.

But the slow­down an­nounced Fri­day ap­plies across all of Eng­land. The main thrust is that casi­nos and bowl­ing al­leys, shut­tered since late March, will have to wait longer be­fore cus­tomers are al­lowed back in. Wed­ding re­cep­tions of up to 30 peo­ple and in­door per­for­mances will re­main banned, de­spite ear­lier plans for them to restart on Satur­day.

Face masks will also now be manda­tory in more in­door set­tings, such as movie the­aters, mu­se­ums and places of wor­ship be­gin­ning Aug. 8. Masks are al­ready manda­tory for peo­ple in shops and on pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment — along with much of Europe — is wor­ry­ing aloud about a pos­si­ble sec­ond wave of in­fec­tions that could over­whelm hos­pi­tals dur­ing flu sea­son.

Britain re­ported 846 new pos­i­tive coro­n­avirus cases Thurs­day, its high­est daily count since June 28. More than 46,000 peo­ple have died.

In his re­marks Fri­day, John­son said, “Our as­sess­ment is that we should now squeeze that brake pedal in or­der to keep the virus un­der con­trol.”

The prime min­is­ter added, “The preva­lence of the virus in the com­mu­nity, in Eng­land, is likely to be ris­ing for the first time since May.”

Bri­tish Health Sec­re­tary Matt Han­cock told the BBC that the ris­ing num­ber of cases in north Eng­land was due to peo­ple vis­it­ing friends and rel­a­tives.

He em­pha­sized that the new rules on gath­er­ings were not meant to tar­get Bri­tish Mus­lims, who awoke Fri­day to news of the re­stric­tions a day be­fore the an­nual Eid al-adha hol­i­day. Tra­di­tion­ally, fam­i­lies and friends gather for large meals dur­ing sev­eral days of fes­tiv­i­ties.

The ever-shift­ing list of gov­ern­ment-or­dered do’s and don’ts has be­come some­what dizzy­ing for Bri­tons. The pubs are open, gyms are not. Peo­ple can go to the movies, even as the gov­ern­ment’s health ad­vis­ers cau­tion that in­door spa­ces should be avoided. Schools are still sched­uled to re­open here in the fall.

A just-re­leased study by Uni­ver­sity College Lon­don found that fewer than half of 70,000 re­spon­dents un­der­stood Eng­land’s lockdown rules.

In an ap­par­ent at­tempt to sim­plify, John­son launched an­other new pub­lic health mes­sag­ing cam­paign Fri­day.

The slimmed-down, catchy new slo­gan from the prime min­is­ter is: “Wash your hands, cover your face & make space.” Along­side the oblig­a­tory hash­tag, #Hands­faces­pace. This re­places an ear­lier mes­sage to “be alert,” which was con­fus­ing to many — be alert to what?

In ad­di­tion to con­fus­ing mes­sag­ing, John­son’s gov­ern­ment has been crit­i­cized for a late lockdown on March 23, and over fail­ures to pro­tect peo­ple in nurs­ing homes, pro­vide pro­tec­tive gear to front-line med­i­cal work­ers and op­er­ate an ef­fi­cient test, trace and iso­late pro­gram.

The prime min­is­ter’s pull­back on re­open­ing comes a day af­ter Britain’s Of­fice for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics re­ported that Eng­land topped Europe’s grim league ta­ble for high­est lev­els of ex­cess deaths dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

That anal­y­sis of more than 20 Euro­pean coun­tries — in­clud­ing the four na­tions of the United King­dom — found that Eng­land’s death rate was 7.55 per­cent higher this year through the end of May, com­pared with its five-year av­er­age. Spain was next, fol­lowed by Scot­land and Bel­gium.

A few days ago, af­ter out­breaks in Cat­alo­nia, Britain reim­posed a 14-day quar­an­tine for all trav­el­ers from Spain — dash­ing the plans of many Bri­tons for a hol­i­day in the south.

Sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries that have had their coro­n­avirus out­breaks un­der con­trol have be­gun to see a rise in cases that is feed­ing fears of a sec­ond wave.

A spike in in­fec­tions led Bel­gium to ramp up re­stric­tions on so­cial con­tact, while Spain closed gyms and night­clubs in Barcelona.

France re­ported a 54 per­cent rise in new coro­n­avirus cases over the past week, call­ing it a “marked in­crease.” Ger­man health of­fi­cials have de­scribed new in­fec­tions there as deeply con­cern­ing.

OLI SCARFF/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

Shop­pers make their way Fri­day through Manchester, which is among the metropoli­tan ar­eas in north Eng­land now sub­ject to a ban on gath­er­ings of any size at pri­vate homes. Res­i­dents still can go to pubs and restaurant­s, but only with mem­bers of their own house­holds.

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