UK braces for holiday COVID-19 surge, tighter restrictions
LONDON (AP) — The U.K. entered the final week before Christmas with the country bracing for post-celebration coronavirus fallout and Prime Minister Boris Johnson refusing Friday to rule out a fresh national lockdown after the holiday.
And when classes resume in the new year, schools are expected to roll out mass testing for students and staff, a plan that drew criticism because the government announced it at the last minute.
The government plans to relax restrictions on socializing and travel for five days before and after Christmas. With infections rising in the U.K., which has Europe's second-highest coronavirus death toll, there are concerns about a possible fresh surge of cases and deaths after the holidays.
Officials moved this week to tighten up the existing restrictions for much of the population by putting large parts of southern England into the highest virus alert level, Tier 3, from Saturday.
Asked whether England would follow Northern Ireland in imposing a six-week lockdown starting Dec. 26, Johnson signaled he was prepared to take more drastic action.
“We’re hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that," Johnson said during a visit to Manchester. “But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.”
Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have their own devolved governments and throughout the pandemic have often set rules that are different to the ones the British government ordered and took effect in England.
Northern Ireland will see a six-week lockdown introduced from December 26 to curb rising cases - with the closure of non-essential retail and contact services, as well as restricting the hospitality sector to takeaway only.
Wales will go into its third full lockdown from...