British prime minister Boris Johnson has announced a raft of new measures to keep the spread of coronavirus at bay, including a £3 billion (€3.3 billion) package for the NHS and increased powers for local authorities.
Johnson unveiled the next phase of the country’s recovery roadmap on Friday after announcing £3 billion (€3.3 billion) in funding to help the health service prepare for a possible second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also announced new powers for local authorities to deal with outbreaks, including local stay at home orders, powers to reduce numbers allowed at local events below national guidance and shutdown outdoor spaces and premises at short notice.
The prime minister said that while a national lockdown was “the right thing to do,” it was now time to control the virus at a local level.
You can watch Johnson’s press conference in the video player above.
The new funding for the NHS, with money going to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will be used in part to keep some of the temporary “Nightingale hospitals” up and running over the winter season to face a potential resurgence of cases.
Johnson also announced that he would be launching the biggest flu vaccination programme the UK has seen and increasing the number of ventilators to 30,000 so that the government could be “ready for winter and planning for the worst.”
Lockdown restrictions will be eased further from August 1, when events such as live indoor performances – subject to successful pilots – and weddings with up to 30 guests will be allowed to go ahead.
Businesses will also be allowed to use their discretion, in consultation with employees, to decide whether workers should return to their place of work or continue to work remotely.
Most businesses, including restaurants and pubs, have reopened across the UK but social distancing measures are still recommended. The public must also wear face coverings on public transport and in shops or risk a fine.
Casinos, skating rinks and businesses such as beauticians will now be allowed to open from August 1.
Nightclubs and children’s soft play centres will remain closed.
Johnson stressed that these changes were conditional, saying that he “will not hesitate to put on the brakes.”
Looking long-term, the government hoped that spectators would be allowed to attend football matches and concerts at stadia by October, with the British people getting back to “significant normality” by November.
Johnson said that thanks to a “panoply of tools” and the “continued common sense” of the general public, remaining restrictions could be lifted by Christmas.
The UK is the most heavily-impacted country in Europe. According to the latest government’s figures, 45,119 fatalities have been recorded as of July 15 across the UK, while more than 292,500 people had tested positive.
The figures are however being disputed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock called for “an urgent review” on Friday into how data related to coronavirus deaths are recorded in England after it was claimed that people who once tested positive but later died of natural causes were included.
It comes after two researchers from the University of East Anglia and the University of Oxford stated in a paper that COVID-19 figures out of England represented “a statistical anomaly.”
“By the PHE definition, no one in England is allowed to ever recover from their illness. A patient who has tested positive, but successfully treated and discharged from hospital, will still be counted as a COVID death even if they had a heart attack or were run over by a bus three months later,” they wrote.
This explained why figures out of England are in “stark contrast” to those from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and why “out of hospital setting” deaths remain consistently high, they argued.
“It’s time to fix this statistical flaw that leads to an over-exaggeration of COVID-associated deaths,” the said.
The paper, published by the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-based Medicine, has not been peer-reviewed.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS), meanwhile, estimated the COVID-19-related deaths in England and Wales between March 1 and June 30 at 50,335.
In the vast majority — 91.1 per cent — of the COVID-related deaths there was at least one pre-existing condition.
The ONS data is based on registered death certificates on which COVID-19 is mentioned.