Will we go back into lockdown this year? What the experts say so far

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  • Will we go back into lockdown again this year? It’s been a month since the government lifted measures in England as part of their roadmap out of lockdown, so this is the question many are asking. 

    Boris Johnson announced the lockdown roadmap in February this year, calling it a “cautious but irreversible” plan out of the pandemic. It was subject to four tests at each stage to ensure that restrictions were lifting when the risk was low. And it’s gone off (almost) without a hitch – partially due to the record-levels of vaccinations. At the time of writing, almost 76% of people in the UK have had both doses of either the Pfizer, Moderna or Oxford vaccine.

    However, some called the government’s choice to lift all of England’s measures on July 19 ‘irresponsible’ following the emergence of the new Delta variant, which accounted for 95% of new cases at the time. Others also suggested, with more measures lifting in August, we’ll have another lockdown soon.

    Will we go back into lockdown this year?

    Despite growing concerns over the new variant, it’s looking like England may not go into a full lockdown this year.

    The government is rolling out their winter lockdown plan this month with instructions on how to book a Covid-19 booster jab for those eligible. The plan involves an “A” and a “B” option, depending on how much pressure the health service sustains.

    Plan A prevents the NHS from being overwhelmed through vaccines for more age groups and more testing. Track and trace will continue under this first option and the government will encourage businesses to consider using the NHS Covid Pass to check whether customers have had their vaccinations. While Plan B will happen if the NHS comes under “unsustainable pressure” and includes measures such as mandatory face masks.

    On announcing the end of lockdown earlier this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that when the measures did lift, it would be “irreversible”. But there would also be “trade offs” involved.

    He said, “We can begin safely to restart our lives and do it with confidence. But I want to be frank about exactly what that means and the trade-offs involved. The vaccines reduce the danger of Covid: they save lives and they keep people out of hospital.

    “But no vaccine against any disease has ever been 100 per cent effective,” he continued. “So whenever we ease the lockdown, whether it is today or in six or nine months, we’ve got to be realistic and accept that there will be more infections, more hospitalisations and therefore – sadly – more deaths, just as there are every year with flu. Even if we sustained the lockdown indefinitely, which would itself cost lives and do immeasurable harm to our children, we would not be able to eradicate this disease.”

    “And that is why it is so crucial that this roadmap should be cautious but also irreversible. We are setting out on what I hope and believe is a one way road to freedom.”

    Even when the government delayed the end of lockdown on June 21 by four weeks, the message stayed the same.

    The Prime Minister continued to stress that England’s approach was “cautious but irreversible”. He also repeatedly referred to July 19 as the “terminus date” for restrictions. Following this, the public dubbed July 19 as “Freedom Day”.

    Health Secretary Sajid Javid also said that there would be no further lockdowns after July 19.

    Man walks past poster of Covid-19 restrictions in London

    Many people will continue to wear face masks on public transport and in shops. (Credit: Getty).

    After he took his new post, Mr Javid told news outlets that he wanted the restrictions to lift “as quickly as possible”. He added also that it was “going to be irreversible, there’s no going back. That’s why we want to be careful during that process.”

    On July 5, however, the PM did reveal that the government would keep some “contingency measures” in place “to help manage the virus during higher risk periods, such as the winter”.

    He said, “We will place emphasis on strengthened guidance and do everything possible to avoid reimposing restrictions with all the costs that they bring.”

    Announcing plans for how the country would “live with Covid”, the government said that they intended to:

    • Reduce the vaccine dose interval for under 40s from 12 weeks to 8
    • Move away from legal restrictions to allow people to make their own decisions about managing the virus
    • Continue with a “proportionate” test, trace and isolate system
    • Maintain tough border controls (with the requirement to prove a double vaccination before travel)
    In late July, experts were still cautioning the public that the situation could worsen in the winter. In this case, the government would have no choice but to enforce another lockdown.
    Neil Ferguson, who initially advised the government to go into the first lockdown, is a professor at Imperial College London. Last month, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, “It’s going to be a difficult summer for many reasons…I think case numbers are likely to be declining at least by late September, even in the worst-case scenario.”

    There is “a need to slow the spread to some extent”, he continued. He also added that he couldn’t be sure there wouldn’t be another lockdown before Christmas.

    However in an interview with The Times, Professor Ferguson said that lockdowns probably won’t be needed again. He said, “I think it is unlikely we will need a new lockdown or even social distancing measures of the type we’ve had so far.”

    The only “caveat”, he noted, would be if the “virus changes substantially” and new variants that resist the vaccines emerge.

    This comes following a significant decline in positive coronavirus cases over a number of weeks. In late July, the UK was seeing around 43,000 new infections daily. That number is now almost half what it was, with the latest government data recording 26,750 positive cases on August 15. Additionally, 76% of all adults in the UK have now had both jabs. 47 million people have had one dose which, according to research from the University of Oxford, substantially reduces the chance of passing on the virus.

    Naturally though, if more people who have both doses of the vaccine then there is less chance for the virus to spread. So while many are somewhat protected, others risk catching, spreading and becoming ill with the virus. This is one of the reasons that some people have also tried to get their second Covid vaccine early.

    Researchers have also revealed new Covid-19 symptoms linked to the Delta variant. They include symptoms more similar to a common cold, including a headache, runny nose and sore throat. With fewer tests being conducted recently, the government have urged people to continue taking lateral flow tests and follow-up PCR tests to prevent the spread of the virus.

    Is Scotland going back into lockdown?

    Nicola Sturgeon said that she won’t rule out the possibility of reintroducing some Covid restrictions in Scotland over the coming weeks. Since then, experts have floated the idea of a circuit breaker lockdown to the first minister as a potential option to stem the rise in cases.

    The number of cases in the country have now reached a record high with a total of 4,323 new cases reported on August 24. The highest level Scotland has experienced so far was during the summer wave in July earlier this year, when the number of daily cases hit 4,234.

    The first minister warned that Scotland is at another “fragile and pivotal moment” in the ongoing pandemic. Although she hopes not to have to bring back any restrictions, if it’s necessary then they would be as proportionate and as least disruptive as possible.

     She said, “New cases in Scotland have more than doubled over the past week, and that is one of the sharpest rises we have experienced at any point during the pandemic.”

    While this is the largest recorded daily figure for Scotland, more testing is being carried out at the moment than in the beginning stages of the pandemic.

    Nicola Sturgeon said, “We always knew cases were likely to rise as restrictions eased. So to some extent what we are seeing now is not entirely unexpected.

    “That said, the scale of the increase is still a cause of real concern.”

    The FM said that people should continue to get their vaccines, stick to the rules on face coverings and ensure they maintain social distancing. On top of this, they can avoid any unnecessary contact and maintain ventilation at all times in more crowded spaces to help avoid infection.

    However the finance secretary for Scotland, Kate Forbes, claims that the country doesn’t have enough money for another lockdown. She said that unless the UK government was willing to fund another complete shutdown then the Scottish government would find it hard to deliver the money for it.

    Ms Forbes said that there wouldn’t be any money available for furlough if Scotland was forced to go into lockdown again, leaving people unable to work without financial aid.

    Speaking a Holyrood’s Finance Committee, the finance secretary said, “One of the biggest challenges right now from a financial perspective is the fact that there hasn’t been that much additional consequential funding from the UK Government in the last few months.

    People queuing for vaccines as Scotland doesn't dismiss plans to go back into lockdown

    Scottish ministers are the only ones to confirm that there may be more restrictions soon, Credit: Getty.

    “Right now we are trying to remobilise the health service, remobilise the justice system, remobilise a whole host of different public services, as well as deal with the ongoing covid impact from a budget that has not been supplemented by additional consequentials coming from the UK Government in the way that it was last year.

    “That’s not what we’re discussing at the moment. We’re talking about trying to maximise the impact of the baseline measures. But if we were to, then we have no certainty that furlough will be in place, we have no certainty that self employed income support will be in place, and I have no certainty that there will be any additional funding in place.

    She added, “I am not sitting on funds right now that I could deploy to support businesses. We would need additional help from the UK Government.”

    Is Wales going back into lockdown?

    There’s no indiction that Wales will go back into lockdown soon – if at all.

    The country have taken a cautious approach through the pandemic. They only fully lifted restrictions (with the exemption of mandatory face coverings) early in August. But the government have warned that it would not hesitate to reintroduce restrictions if infection grows.

    On August 7, officials scrapped all limits on meeting with others indoors. The whole country moved into alert level zero. Any business forced to close could reopen from this date, including nightclubs and music events.

    However, latest data shows that cases numbers have increased dramatically in the fortnight since restrictions were lifted. Between August 18 and August 22, Wales had a positivity rate of 17.5%. This means that 264 people per 100,000 had coronavirus. A week prior to the restrictions lifting in Wales, there were 133 cases per 100,000 people.

    On Monday of this week, the latest figures showed 3,247 confirmed cases with two deaths. Hospital admissions have also been on the up with 58 patients admitted to hospital on 11 July. Numbers have increased every week since then, with 123 people admitted on August 15.

    Will Northern Ireland have another lockdown?

    Northern Ireland’s is in a similar situation and hasn’t confirmed whether the country will go back into lockdown anytime soon.

    Health experts have called the trend of growing cases in Northern Ireland “uncertain”. The latest estimate suggesting that one in 50 people have virus on August 14. This is an increase from one in 55 the previous week, signalling the highest case level since January 23.

    Northern Ireland lifted restrictions later than England and earlier than Wales. They allowed households to meet both indoors and outside from July. Live music events also resumed in NI from 27 of July. However, Stormont forced venues to sell tickets in advance, have allocated seating and ensure social distancing.

    What have the experts said about a third wave?

    Experts have warned that the UK is now certainly in a third wave. Professor Ravi Gupta at the University of Cambridge called on the government to delay the end of lockdown on June 21, which they later did. Andrew Hayward, professor and a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) team, and Professor Christina Pagel at University College London, both echoed this call.

    London train station during the coronavirus lockdown in 2020

    Credit: Getty

    Professor Hayward argued that there was a “good argument for caution”. He told BBC Breakfast at the time that the country was on the cusp of a third wave. “I think what we can see is that this strain can circulate very effectively. Although it was originally imported through travel to India, it’s spread fairly effectively first of all within households and now more broadly within communities. So I don’t really see why it wouldn’t continue to spread in other parts of the country.

    “Obviously we’re doing everything we can to contain the spread of that. But it’s likely that more generalised measures may start to be needed to control it.”

    The professor said he was personally concerned about the new variant. He added, “Concern largely arises from the fact that it’s more transmissible than the previous variant which was already substantially more transmissible than the variant before that.”

    Lockdown delay: Could easing lockdown on July 19 be delayed?

    Lockdown easing won’t be delayed again. On July 19, the government lifted many restrictions in England.

    On August 16, the government also lifted further measures. Anyone who has had a double vaccination doesn’t have to self-isolate if they come into contact with a Covid-positive person. Anyone under the age of 18 also no longer has to quarantine. Instead, the government have advised people to take a free PCR test.

    On July 12, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that restrictions in England would come to an end.

    He said, “We think now is the right moment to proceed, when we have the natural firebreak of the school holidays in the next few days.

    “But it is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution. And I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough. This pandemic is not over. This disease coronavirus continues to carry risks for you and for your family. We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday 19th July to life as it was before Covid.

    “We will stick to our plan to lift legal restrictions and to lift social distancing, but we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport.”

    Boris Johnson also said that the requirement to work from home would lift – but people shouldn’t return to offices immediately. Nightclubs and other venues with large crowds are allowed to open again but the government urged them to “make use of the NHS Covid pass” as a means of entry.

    “We’ll keep our tough border policy, including quarantine for those arriving from red list countries,” he said. “And we’ll keep the test, trace and isolate system in place.”

    “It is the single most crucial thing now that you get that jab. A jab that could protect you and your family – and allow you, for instance, to go on holiday. And it is of course only thanks to the vaccine programme that we can take these steps now. But to take these steps we must be cautious and we must be vaccinated.”

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