LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Thursday that authorities will have to impose tougher measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and “protect’’ the Christmas holidays as the government prepared to introduce stricter measures in northeast England.
Johnson’s comments came amid reports that the government plans to impose a 10 p.m. curfew on pubs and restaurants in response to a recent jump in confirmed coronavirus cases. Local officials asked for more restrictions now to prevent a tighter lockdown later.
Johnson wrote in a piece published in The Sun newspaper that the only way to be certain the country can enjoy the winter holidays “is to be tough now.’’
He said he wants to “stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump.”
Over the past two days, opposition lawmakers had criticized Johnson’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and accused his government of lacking a cohesive plan to tackle a second wave of the pandemic. A shortage of testing capacity is a particular concern, with people around the country complaining they were unable to book appointments for tests or directed to testing centers far from their homes.
Widespread testing is seen as crucial to controlling the spread of the virus because it allows those who are infected to self-isolate while helping health officials identify hot spots and trace those who are infected.
Daily infection rates have risen to levels not seen since late May, forcing the British government to impose limits on public gatherings.
Figures released late Wednesday showed 3,991 new confirmed cases during the previous 24 hours, up from 3,105 a day earlier.
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said the measures expected for the northeast of the country are seen as “preventative.” Forbes told the BBC there is concern that the average age of people testing positive with the virus is going up.
“Last week, 60% of the people that were being tested were between the ages of 18 and 30. That is now starting to reach into older age groups as well,'' he said. “We know that when it starts to affect older people, that’s when you start to get the hospitalizations and, sadly, also the mortality, too.''
Details about the new restrictions remain thin. Labour lawmakers representing northeast England called for further information.
Local leaders elsewhere in the country are also demanding government action and more testing to stave off a second wave of infections.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for action to counter “chaos and confusion.” He told London Assembly members that testing troubles were “putting lives and livelihoods in jeopardy.''
“We’ve known for months now that come the autumn demand for testing would increase,'' Khan said. “This crunch point should have been foreseen and then avoided. And unless the government massively ramps up testing capacity in London, we’ll be back to where we started: trying to halt the spread of the virus in the dark.''