News and Commentary

Four-Week Lockdown In U.K. May Last Even Longer If COVID-19 Numbers Don’t Fall: Official

"We’ve got to be humble in the face of nature."
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson walks through the House of Commons to attend the the State Opening of Parliament taking place in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster on June 21, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. This year saw a scaled-back State opening of Parliament Ceremony with the Queen arriving by car rather than carriage and not wearing the Imperial State Crown or the Robes of State. (Photo by
Kirsty Wigglesworth – WPA Pool/Getty Images

While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a national shutdown Saturday until Dec. 2, it may last longer if the COVID-19 infection rate doesn’t drop far enough, a senior government minister said Sunday.

“With a virus this malignant, and with its capacity to move so quickly, it would be foolish to predict with absolute certainty what will happen in four weeks’ time,” Cabinet minister Michael Gove told Sky News.

Asked if the lockdown could be extended, Gove said, “Yes.”

“We will always take a decision in the national interest, based on evidence. We want to be in a position where we can — and I believe that this is likely to be the case — have an approach where if we bring down the rate of infection sufficiently we can reduce measures nationally and also reduce measures regionally,” he said.

Johnson on Saturday said the lockdown, which will begin Thursday, is necessary because cases of COVID-19 are rising dramatically across the country.

“We’ve got to be humble in the face of nature, and in this country, alas, as across much of Europe, the virus is spreading even faster than the worst-case scenario of our scientific advisers,” Johnson said. He warned that more than 80,000 Britons could die over the winter without the lockdown.

Bars, restaurants, gyms, and businesses deemed non-essential will have to close for four weeks from Thursday, he said. But unlike the restrictions set up in the spring, schools, colleges and universities can stay open.

Johnson said in a press conference that he was “truly, truly sorry” for the impact on businesses, but added that a furlough system that pays 80% of employee wages will be extended through November.

“No responsible prime minister” could ignore the rising COVID-19 numbers, he said, adding the “peak of mortality” could well be worse than the country saw in April.

Across the United Kingdom, Wales remains under a 17-day “firebreak” lockdown until Nov. 9. Scotland has introduced a new five-tiered system , set to come into force on Monday. And Northern Ireland has closed pubs and restaurants for four weeks, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries, the BBC reports.

The BCC detailed the new restrictions:

  • People are being told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, such as work which cannot be done from home and education
  • And people are also allowed to leave home for exercise medical reasons, food and other essential shopping and providing care for vulnerable people or for volunteering
  • Meeting indoors or in private gardens will not be allowed
  • But individuals can meet one other person from another household outside in a public place
  • Pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential retail across the nation will close but takeaways and click-and-collect shopping can remain open
  • Leisure and entertainment venues, including gyms, will also close
  • Construction sites and manufacturing workplaces can remain open
  • People are still allowed to form support bubbles
  • Children can move between homes if their parents are separated
  • Clinically vulnerable people are asked to be “especially careful” but people are not being asked to resume shielding

Related: New CDC Numbers Show Lockdown’s Deadly Toll On Young People