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UK lockdown set for three more weeks

By JULIAN SHEA | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-04-17 09:12
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Britain's Prince William speaks via video link as he officially opens the NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham on Thursday. The NHS Nightingale Hospitals have been built to provide extra beds for COVID-19 patients. [JACOB KING/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Too early to let guard down in fight against novel coronavirus, says Raab

The British government has confirmed lockdown measures introduced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson will remain in place for another three weeks.

The announcement was made at Thursday's daily Downing Street media briefing by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputizing for Johnson as he continues his recovery from the novel coronavirus.

Figures released on Thursday revealed that the United Kingdom's death toll for COVID-19 patients who have died in hospital has risen by 861, and is now 13,729.

Raab said that there were "indications the measures we've put in place have been successful at slowing the spread of the virus, but it's a mixed picture … we still don't have the infection rate down as much as we need to".

Changing social distancing measures would, he said, "threaten a second peak in the spread of the virus", and as a result, they would stay. "The worst thing we could do now would be to ease up too soon," he added.

Meanwhile, concern over how the outbreak is being handled in care homes continues to grow. A letter sent by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, which deals with all local authorities in England, to a senior figure in the Department of Health and Social Care, has been seen by the BBC. It talks about the "confusion and additional workload" caused by mixed messages from government.

The letter went on to say that the issue of personal protective equipment for workers had been "shambolic" and "testing for care workers appears to be being rolled out without being given thought to who is going to be tested and what we are going to do with the result".

Better news came with the announcement that the first new ventilator has been approved for use in the UK.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has approved the Penlon Prima ESO2 and an order has been placed for 15,000 devices, to be made over the coming weeks.

Ordinarily, the company would only have the capability to make around 50 to 60 pieces each week, but companies including Airbus, Ford and several Formula 1 motor racing teams have used their technical skills to adapt the exiting device for quick mass production.

Parliament will resume in a new way when the Easter recess comes to an end next week, after plans for a virtual chamber for the duration of the outbreak were approved.

Up to 120 Members of Parliament will be able to join debates via video conferencing, along with 50 who are allowed to sit in the Westminster chamber, observing social distancing guidelines.

The Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle said this would allow MPs to do their job of scrutinizing government without Westminster staff "putting themselves at risk".

British government scientific advisor Neil Ferguson has said when restrictions are lifted, life will not go back to normal, and the process will be long and slow.

"If we want to open schools, let people get back to work, then we need to keep transmission down in another manner," he said. "I should say, it's not going to be going back to normal. We will have to maintain some level of social distancing, a significant level of social distancing, probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available."

Italy's foreign minister echoed the comments about the need for a vaccine before people can start to think about returning to old ways of behaving.

"When a region doesn't know where to put its coffins, it's going through a moment in history you can't come back from," Luigi Di Maio told Sky News. "We'll only be able to go back to normal once we have discovered a vaccine."

Italy was one of the first countries affected by the pandemic, and so far it has seen more than 21,000 deaths. But at the start of the outbreak, France and Germany placed restrictions on the export of face masks despite warnings this could weaken Europe's collective response to the virus.

This has caused ill-feeling among European partners, compounded by a dispute about the best way to handle the economic fall-out of the pandemic, and European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen has made a "heartfelt apology" for the organization's failure to respond in a more helpful way.

"Yes, it is true that no-one was really ready for this," von der Leyen told the European Parliament on Thursday. "It is also true that too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning. And yes for that, it is right that Europe as a whole offers a heartfelt apology."

Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has told Parliament that any lifting of restrictions will have to be gradual to avoid the risk of a second wave of infection.

"I don't yet know if we'll be able to relax restrictions on May 5, but I do know that if we can at all, it is going to be gradual and happen over a number of months," said Varadkar, a qualified doctor.

"As we know from Asia, they may even need to be re-imposed again as only a scientific breakthrough-a vaccine or an effective antiviral medicine-will truly allow life to go back to being as it was."

Moscow's annual Victory Day military parade on May 9, which this year would have commemorated the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, has been postponed, and in Spain, the mayor of Barcelona has pleaded for the country's children to be allowed out of their homes.

Under Spanish lockdown rules, children are now not allowed to go out at all, and mother of two Ada Colau said the time has come for change. "Week after week, they fight each other more every day, they have fits of sadness, anger," she wrote on Facebook, saying how she was becoming worried about their "psychological and emotional health".

"If adults can go out to walk the dog ... why must our children keep waiting?" she added.

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