Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has defended the “balanced, targeted and proportionate” new coronavirus measures amid criticism from some scientists.
In England, people are being told to work from home if they can and rules on face coverings have been expanded. The measures have exposed a split among scientists. Prof John Edmunds, who advises the government, said they did not go “anywhere near far enough”.
But other scientists say they hope that they are shifting towards a coherent policy. On Tuesday, tighter restrictions were announced in all four UK nations.
Other measures introduced in England include a 10 pm closing time for pubs and restaurants and the number of people allowed at weddings has been halved. The fines for breaking the rules are set to increase to £200 on the first offense.
Hospitality venues will need to close early in Scotland & Wales – but Scotland take tough decisions by banning people from visiting other people’s homes from Wednesday. Northern Ireland has already banned households mixing indoors.
In a television broadcast, Boris Johnson said “we must reserve the right to go further” if cases continue to rise.
He said he was “spiritually reluctant” to infringe on people’s freedoms, “but unless we take action, the risk is that we will have to go for tougher measures later when the deaths have already mounted”.
In an interview on the Today programme, Prof Edmunds said the lockdown in March which closed schools, the hospitality sector, and businesses, had involved a combination of many different measures which brought the R number – which measures how quickly the virus is spreading.
To stop the pandemic from growing any further, a large range of measures was needed, he said and cast doubt on the number being below 1 by Christmas. “I suspect not. There’s a chance, of course, there’s a chance,” he said.
“To slow the epidemic down will mean putting the brakes on very hard. I think we’ll see very stringent measures coming in through the united kingdom but it’ll be too late,” he warned.
Another scientist, Prof Carl Heneghan, from Oxford University, wrote to the government on Monday saying there should be targeted measures to protect the vulnerable because suppression of the virus was increasingly unfeasible.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today, he said the measures seemed to show the emphasis of public policy was moving towards personal responsibility, similar to Sweden.
“There’s a clearer aim that’s happening,” he said. “We’re starting to understand that we’re trying to control the spread of infection as opposed to suppress it.”
He added it was important to give these new measures time to work, maintain a clear and consistent public message, and not to panic.
The government’s chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty said it is understood to believe it is inevitable England will have to follow Scotland’s latest move.
Mr. Raab defended the government’s strategy, saying there would always be the “Goldilocks criticism – too much or too little”.
He struck a more optimistic tone, saying if people followed all the measures – and no one thinks they are immune – “we will get through this and we will get to Christmas not in a national lockdown”.
“The public has responded every time but increasingly there’s been a minority where compliance has frayed,” he added.
“We know that in bars and restaurants, where people had a couple of drinks, as you enter the later hours of the evening, that there is a risk that the compliance with the guidance ebbs a little bit,” he added.
He added that the effectiveness of the measures would be monitored but there was no fixed time to them. In his address, the prime minister warned they might last up to 6 months.
Mr. Johnson will face further scrutiny from MPs in the House of Commons later during Prime Minister’s Questions.
The devolved nations have their own powers over coronavirus restrictions.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney acknowledged the new rules banning people from visiting other people’s homes were “difficult and disruptive” and said they would be reviewed every three weeks.
“No one wants to have this in place a moment longer. The more public compliance, the more successful we will be,” he told BBC’s Breakfast.
Wales’ Minister Mark Drakeford advise people not to let the virus “take a hold of our lives again”, and Northern Ireland’s Minister Arlene Foster said we should impose tough restrictions and act as a “wake-up call” that “we are not out of the woods”.
The latest R estimate for the entire of the united kingdom is between 1.1 and 1.4.
And the number of United Kingdom cases rose by 4,926 on Tuesday, government figures showed, with deaths increasing by 37.