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UK minister says lockdown in England could be extended beyond Dec 2

Britain is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day

LONDON: The one-month lockdown for England announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson this weekend could be extended as Britain struggles to contain a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, a senior Cabinet member said yesterday.

Mr Michael Gove told Sky News: "Yes. We can definitively say that unless we take action now, the (health service) is going to be overwhelmed in ways that none of us could countenance."

Mr Johnson announced on Saturday that the lockdown across England would kick in after midnight on Thursday morning and last until Dec 2.

In some of the most onerous restrictions in Britain's peacetime history, people will be allowed to leave home for specific reasons only, such as education, work, exercise, shopping for essentials and medicines or caring for the vulnerable.

Pubs and restaurants will be shut apart from for takeaways, and outbound international travel will be discouraged except for work.

All non-essential retail will close. Places of worship will remain open for private prayer, though funerals will be limited to close family members only.

"We must act now," Mr Johnson said, flanked by chief medical officer Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance. "Unless we act, we could see deaths in this country running at several thousand a day."

The government will revive its emergency coronavirus wage subsidy scheme to ensure workers who are temporarily laid off during the new England lockdown receive 80 per cent of their pay, he said.

ASKED TO STOP

Essential shops, schools, and universities will remain open, Mr Johnson said, and while elite sports will continue, amateur sports for adults and children will be asked to stop.

Britain, which has the highest official Covid-19 death toll in Europe, is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day, and scientists have warned a worst-case scenario of 80,000 dead could be exceeded.

So far, it has reported 46,555 Covid-19 deaths - defined as those dying within 28 days of a positive test.

A broader measure of those with Covid-19 on their death certificates puts the toll at 58,925.

The other constituents of Britain - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - have their own policies and enacted tougher Covid-19 health restrictions last month.

Mr Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the government had missed a golden chance to lock down England more effectively when schools were on half-term break last month.

"Well, that's gone now. That is the price of the government's incompetence," Mr Starmer told the BBC. - REUTERS

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