England’s Chief Medical Officer has insisted that England’s imminent lockdown could end on December 2 as planned.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a nationwide four-week lockdown last weekend – closing businesses, banning travel and forbidding household mixing.
The stricter measures will come into law on Thursday and remain in place until at least December 2 – when the government will conduct a review.
Already there has been wide speculation as to whether it will be possible to lift the measures within four weeks.
But England’s top medical officer Chris Whitty has suggested that the hopes of exiting lockdown on December 2 remain realistic.
Asked if lockdown would end as scheduled, Whitty responded: “The aim of this is to get the rates down far enough that it’s a realistic possibility to move into a different state of play at that point in time.”
As reported by Reuters, Whitty said that England could get the R number below 1 during this period, meaning restrictions could be lifted.
However, the professor – who has been flanking the Prime Minister throughout the pandemic press conferences – did say that other measures would be needed to get through winter.
As things stand, the government may revert back to their localised tier system – which categorises regions based on their ‘risk’.
The government has suffered criticism for enforcing measures later than other nations, with Northern Ireland and Wales both entering lockdowns in October.
Back in September, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) encouraged England to partake in a “circuit breaker” – stating that interventions were required to “prevent [an] exponential rise in cases”.
But the recommendation was ultimately ignored even as the infection rate rose, and only when Johnson saw new data projecting alarming hospital rates did he decide to stray from the tiered approach to blanket restrictions.
Labour’s Keir Starmer has blamed the government for its hesitancy, saying the new lockdown would now be “longer and harder” than it needed to be.
Whitty stated during the lockdown press conference that: “If we did not act now, then the chances of the NHS being in extraordinary trouble in December will be very, very high.”
In order to combat rising COVID rates, testing has been ramped up this week – with Liverpool set to become the first city where every resident and worker will be eligible for a free test, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.
The scheme is part of Operation Moonshot, which aims to give people a ‘freedom pass’ to work and travel whilst the pandemic continues.