Britain set for long lockdown as death toll rises to 4,313

The government has put Britain into a widespread shutdown, closing pubs, restaurants and nearly all shops, while ordering people to stay home. (AFP)
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Updated 04 April 2020

Britain set for long lockdown as death toll rises to 4,313

  • The government has put Britain into a widespread shutdown, closing pubs, restaurants and nearly all shops, while ordering people to stay home
  • The peak of new cases could come within a week or 10 days, scientists said

LONDON: Britain is unlikely to lift its stringent lockdown rules until the end of May, once the spread of the coronavirus has started to slow, a leading government adviser said on Saturday as the death toll rose to 4,313.
The government has put Britain into a widespread shutdown, closing pubs, restaurants and nearly all shops, while ordering people to stay home unless absolutely essential to venture out.
The order is designed to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country, which has almost 42,000 confirmed cases. But some experts have started to question whether the shuttering of the economy will cost more lives in the long run.
“We want to move to a situation where at least by the end of May we’re able to substitute some less intensive measures, more based on technology and testing, for the complete lockdown we have now,” Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, told BBC Radio.
Britain’s death toll from the coronavirus rose by 20% to 4,313 by Friday afternoon with 708 new fatalties recorded, the health ministry said. That compared to a 23% rise on Thursday.
The peak of new cases could come within a week or 10 days, Ferguson said, but adherence to the strict rules will determine how quickly the rate of infections decline after that.
“It is quite finely balanced at the current time,” he said, adding that Britain could have quite high levels of infection for “weeks and weeks” if people start to socialize.
Britain initially took a restrained approach to the outbreak but Prime Minister Boris Johnson changed tack and imposed stringent social-distancing measures after Ferguson’s modelling showed a quarter of a million people in the country could die.
The response has since been hampered by a lack of ventilators and an inability to carry out mass testing to determine whether the public, and particularly health workers, have built up an immunity.
Johnson, who has been in self-isolation after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, has invited opposition party leaders to a briefing next week with medical advisers, including the new leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer.
“As party leaders we have a duty to work together at this moment of national emergency,” he said.
Painted to a corner’
Some are questioning the long-term strategy.
A second senior government adviser, the chief pandemic modeller Graham Medley, said he feared Britain had painted itself into a corner, with no clear exit from a strategy that would damage the economic and mental well-being of many people.
Almost one million people have applied for welfare benefits in just two weeks in Britain, according to official data that shows the economy is set for a depression that could be worse than the slump in the 1930s.
“If we carry on with lockdown it buys us more time, we can get more thought put into it, but it doesn’t resolve anything — it’s a placeholder,” Medley told the Times newspaper.
“We’ve kind of painted ourselves into a corner, because then the question will be, what do we do now? In broad terms are we going to continue to harm children to protect vulnerable people, or not?“
Health Minister Matt Hancock has set a goal of 100,000 tests per day by the end of this month, a tenfold increase that industry leaders have questioned due to shortages of equipment. It is also considering immunity certificates.
Separately the government said it would free prisoners who were deemed to be low risk and were within weeks of release.


Trump signs order targeting social media giants' legal protections

Updated 13 min 49 sec ago

Trump signs order targeting social media giants' legal protections

  • President lashed out at Twitter for applying fact checks to two of his tweets

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump escalated his war on social media companies, signing an executive order Thursday challenging the liability protections that have served as a bedrock for unfettered speech on the internet.
Still, the move appears to be more about politics than substance, as the president aims to rally supporters after he lashed out at Twitter for applying fact checks to two of his tweets.
Trump said the fact checks were “editorial decisions” by Twitter and amounted to political activism. He said it should cost those companies their protection from lawsuits for what is posted on their platforms.
Trump and his allies, who rely heavily on Twitter to verbally flog their foes, have long accused the tech giants in liberal-leaning Silicon Valley of targeting conservatives on social media by fact-checking them or removing their posts.
“We’re fed up with it," Trump said, claiming the order would uphold freedom of speech.
It directs executive branch agencies to ask independent rule-making agencies including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to study whether they can place new regulations on the companies — though experts express doubts much can be done without an act of Congress.