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British government warns national lockdown could return

Health secretary says UK trying to avoid such a move, which would make it only the second advanced country after Israel to reimpose a closure

Pedestrians and shoppers, some wearing face masks due to the coronavirus pandemic, walk in Newcastle city center, northeast England, on September 17, 2020. (Oli Scarff/AFP)
Pedestrians and shoppers, some wearing face masks due to the coronavirus pandemic, walk in Newcastle city center, northeast England, on September 17, 2020. (Oli Scarff/AFP)

LONDON — Britain’s government Friday warned it could reimpose a national lockdown across England to counter the coronavirus pandemic, noting rates of hospitalization are doubling every eight days.

“We want to avoid a national lockdown, but we’re prepared to do it if we need to,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC television.

“We’re prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods,” he said, warning of more local measures to come after restrictions were placed on swathes of northeast England from Friday.

Britain has been the worst-hit country in Europe by the pandemic, with the government registering nearly 42,000 deaths from COVID-19. Numbers of new cases are reaching levels not seen since April.

Hancock said “we’ve also sadly seen that the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus is doubling about every eight days, so we do need to take action.”

Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on September 16, 2020. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

Tighter regulations on socializing, affecting more than two million people, came into force in Northumberland, North and South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead and County Durham.

Government scientists have reportedly proposed a blanket lockdown to come into force across England over two weeks in October, to coincide with English schools’ half-term holiday.

The government has faced stinging criticism this week over the failure to achieve the “world-beating” testing and tracing system it promised would be in place over the summer months.

Hancock defended his beleaguered testing program, and said the government was “doing everything we possibly can for the cavalry that’s on the horizon of the vaccine and mass testing.”

An employee of the NHS Test and Trace program speaks with people who arrived for an appointment but were unable to get tested at a COVID-19 testing site in Catford, southeast London, on September 17, 2020. (Daniel Sorabji/AFP)

The latest daily figures show that another 3,395 new confirmed cases were reported. That down on the previous day’s 3,991, the seven-day average is around double the level a couple of weeks back.

As the experience of the pandemic has shown, there’s usually a lag of a week or two between a rise in cases and hospitalizations and then a subsequent lag for deaths.

The worry is that deaths will start to increase markedly in the days and weeks ahead. Though the UK is recording far fewer deaths on a daily basis than it did earlier this year, it still registered another 21 on Thursday, taking the total of those having died 28 days after testing positive for COVID-19 to 41,705.

The reimposition of a lockdown would make the UK only the second advanced country in the world to do so, after Israel imposed a three-week closure for the Jewish holidays that began Friday afternoon.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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