Johnson to confirm end date for England virus lockdown
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will confirm that coronavirus lockdown restrictions across England are to end on December 2, his office said Saturday.
The lockdown will be followed by a return to a three-tiered set of regional restrictions as part of the government's "COVID Winter Plan," it added in a statement.
The official announcement is expected to be made on Monday.
The statement quoted a spokesperson for 10 Downing Street as saying that current England-wide restrictions have "helped bring the virus back under control" and "eased pressures on the NHS (National Health Service)."
However, the government has also cautioned that without regional restrictions the virus would wreak havoc before plans for vaccine distribution and mass testing have had time to take effect.
"That would put in jeopardy the progress the country has made, and once again risk intolerable pressure on the NHS," the spokesperson explained.
A four-week national shutdown was imposed in England early this month, forcing people to stay home and businesses to close owing to a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was originally slated to run until December 2.
More areas are expected to face higher levels of restrictions at that point than they did prior to the lockdown however, the statement said.
Britain has suffered more than any other country in Europe from the coronavirus, with more than 54,000 deaths from 1.4 million cases.
Johnson's government has responsibility for health policy in England but devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland coordinate their own responses to the pandemic.
On Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock declined to say whether restrictions would be further relaxed to allow families to gather over Christmas.
"I'm afraid we still haven't made those decisions," he said.
The government has asked its independent medicines regulator to study a coronavirus vaccine by US pharmaceutical group Pfizer and German partner BioNTech and determine if it is safe for distribution.
Pfizer and BioNTech asked US regulators Friday for emergency use authorisation for the vaccine, which could mark a major step toward curbing the global pandemic.
Recent developments on vaccines and mass testing provide "real confidence" that restrictions to control the virus can be gradually reduced, the prime minister's office said.