England began its second countrywide lockdown at the beginning of November and, according to announcements made yesterday (Nov. 23), it’s set to come to a close on Dec. 2, with a return to the tiers system. The first lockdown spanned across March, April, May, and much of June this year, and after it ended, cases of coronavirus surged. With that in mind, people are wondering whether it’s wise to end the second lockdown after just four weeks. With the UK’s R number hovering above 1 and the rumblings of a third COVID-19 wave across other parts of the world, will there be a third UK lockdown? Here's what we know so far.
On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt told MPs that the country should expect a series of lockdowns in the coming months. Mordaunt explained that the government was “hopeful of being able to unlock in December but they are being driven by the data” and stressed that, when restrictions lift, cases are expected to go up as they did this summer. “That is why some scientists expect a third or more waves of the virus to be managed [with] repeat lockdowns,” she said.
This follows an earlier stark warning from Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of SAGE, who back in September stressed that a third wave of the virus was "entirely possible." However, he noted, there were alternatives to control a third wave other than national lockdowns, including mass testing (something being trailed in Liverpool right now).
“It is possible to turn an epidemic around without a strictly enforced lockdown," he explained. "What Sweden [who have had relatively low cases and have not enforced lockdowns] have emphasised and the epidemiologists emphasised is the importance of sustainability. We are in this for the long-term and the measures have to be ones we can live with."
Ministers across the UK have met over the last couple of weeks to discuss the likelihood of further lockdowns and how to tackle the festive season. On Nov. 23 Boris Johnson announced that there will be tougher restrictions in tier three areas once the national lockdown ends at the start of December. Similarly, while speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Travel Secretary Grant Shapps said "We are dissuading people travelling around generally from the very high tier areas" after the second lockdown ends.
The government is having to consider how loosening lockdown over December could lead to a rise in COVID-19 cases in the new year. Northern Ireland will enter another two week “circuit break” lockdown on Nov. 27 and haven’t ruled out extending lockdown measures. Similarly, Scotland has developed a five tier system which sees some areas with travel bans outside their council areas. Wales eased restrictions on Nov. 9 but people from other households still can’t mix inside.
Some scientists have warned against mixing during the festive period. For example, Professor Andrew Hayward, one of the scientists advising the government about coronavirus, has said, “My personal view is we're putting far too much emphasis on having a near-normal Christmas. We know respiratory infections peak in January so throwing fuel on the fire over Christmas can only contribute to this."
While it's unclear whether the UK itself will face a third wave, other countries around the world are currently facing the possibility of one. The Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain for example, just announced he believes the "third wave of COVID is here."
Despite initially appearing to have a handle on their COVID-19 cases, Hong Kong is also looking like they will be facing their own third wave, while Iran is in a similar position with rising death tolls. The World Health Organisation has also warned that Europe is likely to see a third wave of COVID-19 in early 2021 before vaccines become available.
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