Though we are well over two weeks into England’s proposed four-week lockdown, the seemingly shifting rules continue to be a source of confusion to many. This was brought home as 14 people were stopped at the Channel Tunnel attempting to leave the country without a valid reason thus violating the Coronavirus restrictions. Additionally, it has been reported that the there are problems with the government’s much publicised deterrent of £10,000 on the spot fines for those who have organised events including protests during the lockdown. Many of these fines have been reduced or overturned when taken to court, causing the police to firstly be told to not issue the fines, before resuming them as of today. With such confusion abounding – we answer five of your most pressing questions.
Q: What’s happening in Scotland?
A: 11 Authorities in Scotland, including Glasgow and Stirling will move to the highest Coronavirus restriction tier from 6PM on Friday the 20th of November. This places 2.3 million people under harsher restrictions, for three weeks until December 11th. Universities and schools will remain open, but non-essential businesses will close, and households will only be able to meet outside in groups of six or less. The timing of the lockdown has been designed to impact the Hannukah celebrations only partially and to hopefully spare Christmas.
Q: Will England’s lockdown be extended? What will happen at Christmas?
A: It remains difficult to answer both of these questions. Officially the government has stated it is too early to say what restrictions will be in place at Christmas, however the governmental medical advisor Susan Hopkins has indicated that plans are in development to make Christmas as normal as possible, with the Coronavirus rules potentially being relaxed for a few days. It is speculated this could be the five days following Christmas eve, and that the policy could be co-ordinated across the UK so families could meet up with loved ones from other regions. The scientific advisory body SAGE has stated that we could need five days of additional lockdown for each day of Christmas socialising, thus meaning that we could face an overall longer lockdown if restrictions are eased for the festive period.
It is also telling that France has extended its lockdown beyond its original time frame, despite the virus being largely under control. While this does not guarantee the British government will do likewise, it will undoubtedly have some bearing on the thinking of the scientific community.
Q. How will lockdown be lifted?
A. Assuming that the lockdown is not extended, The British Medical Association has set out its blueprint for how the country could leave lockdown, pointing out that we must not remove restrictions wholesale as we have done in the past but rather gradually ease the country back into normality. For example, the rule of six could be replaced with a two-household restriction. It is also expected the government will return to its three-tier strategy, but this may possibly be strengthened with measures such as banning travel between areas in different tiers and upgrading guidelines to firm rules, possibly with legal backing to enforce them. It seems to be a consensus across the medical community that lockdown should not be lifted entirely as was the case previously when dining out, pub visits, and increased socialisation caused a second spike.
Q. When will vaccinations begin?
A. Pfizer continues to post encouraging reports of the efficacy of its vaccine, stating it has a 95% effective rate, even amongst older people and across ethnicities. The UK has already ordered 40 million doses of this vaccine, but it requires two shots to work. Additionally, as the RNA technology in the vaccine is experimental, it hinges on regulators approving it without safety concerns. It is likely the UK will get 10 million doses before the year ends, but who will get these and how they will be administered remains to be determined. Other vaccines such as AstraZeneca’s may be more scalable and quicker to market, but the trialling phase continues.
Q. Will vaccines be mandatory?
A. Health Secretary Matthew Hancock has stated that mandatory vaccination has not been ruled out if uptake is lower than expected. However, implementing such a policy would be controversial and dependent on the relevant legislation passing through Parliament. A mandatory vaccination law which had been proposed in Denmark was abandoned this week after 9 days of concerted protest across the country, and it is likely that any equivalent bill in the UK will face fierce opposition from those concerned about vaccine safety and civil liberty campaigners.