UK minister suggests local lockdowns to fight second coronavirus spikePTI | London | Updated: 31-05-2020 16:52 IST | Created: 31-05-2020 16:48 IST
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Sunday defended the government's easing of the coronavirus lockdown and indicated that a more localized and targeted approach would be adopted if there is a second spike in the infection rate. The UK is set to relax a number of social distancing restrictions from Monday, including the opening of primary schools and outdoor markets as well as some domestic competitive sports behind closed doors.
Scientists advising the British government on its pandemic strategy have voiced concerns over the relaxation of measures coming too soon, which may lead to a second peak of the deadly virus that has claimed over 38,000 lives in the UK. "If there's an uptick in any particular locality or setting, we've got the ability to take targeted measures," Raab told the BBC. He stressed that progress had been made, with the number of new cases and of those critically ill COVID-19 cases falling.
"Because we've made that progress, steadily, slowly, surely, week in, week, out, we can – very gradually, very carefully – take the steps that we are taking tomorrow… Of course, we won't take any further steps, or indeed we'll have to take further restrictive measures if we find any uptick in the virus," he said. The easing of rules from Monday means groups of up to six people can now meet outdoors, with further relaxations set to come in from June 15 -- when retail venues and sporting events such as football are also set to return within coronavirus-secure conditions.
"Obviously this is a sensitive moment, but we can't just stay in lockdown forever. We have got to transition. The more we transition through careful steps the more I think we will build up confidence in the approach we are taking," Raab told 'Sky News'. A key element of the gradual opening of the UK economy is a new test and trace system, under which National Health Service (NHS) tracing teams are set to identify people who have been in contact with coronavirus patients and getting them to self-isolate for 14 days.
This is expected to keep a lid on the reproduction rate (R rate) of the virus which must stay below the mark of one, where it is currently. Raab said the system has the capacity to trace the contacts for up to 10,000 cases.
"We are confident that this is the right step to be taking at this moment in time," he said. The senior Cabinet minister admitted that England remains at Level 4 of the government's five-level barometer set for a pandemic -- higher the level, higher the restrictions.
However, he stressed that the reason to "cautiously" ease out of the lockdown at this stage is that the country was "transitioning" to Level 3. At least two members of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which is advising on the pandemic response, have expressed concerns over the lifting of restrictions at this stage.
Professor John Edmunds and Sir Jeremy Farrar fear ministers are taking risks by allowing the gradual reopening of shops and schools and larger gatherings to meet in private. "I think we are taking some risk here," Edmunds said, while Farrar added that the newly-introduced NHS test and trace system needed to be "fully working" before measures were eased.