UK sticks with lockdown as Covid-19 death toll tops 28,000

By Guillermo Ximenis

London, May 2 (efe-epa).- Some European countries are preparing to start a gradual rollback of restrictions imposed on movement and activity to contain Covid-19, but officials in the United Kingdom remained unready Saturday to detail “phase two” of the response to the pandemic as the country’s coronavirus death toll climbed by 621 to 28,131 – exceeded only by the United States and Italy.

The number of cases rose 4,086 to 182,000, Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said during the daily Covid-19 briefing.

He said that nearly 106,000 tests were carried out on Friday.

That marked the second consecutive day authorities met the 100,000-test objective established by the secretary of state for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock.

Critics said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government was overstating the level of testing by including in the figures home-test kits that had been sent out but not yet returned.

The coordinator of the testing program, Professor John Newton, rejected the notion that the government was massaging the numbers.

“All the tests are only counted once, and you can count tests when they go out or when they come back in, and whichever way you do it we still meet the target,” he told BBC Radio.

Though the Johnson government has yet to disclose any specific plans for easing the quarantine, The Guardian reports that one idea under consideration is to reduce the minimum separation between people from 2m (6ft) to 1m (3ft) in the interest of allowing greater flexibility to businesses as they resume operations.

The Times, meanwhile, says that officials worried about the virtual impossibility of maintaining social distance on public transportation are pondering asking people to check their temperature before leaving home if they are planning to travel via bus, train or subway.

Scientists advising the government have insisted that re-opening the economy cannot begin until the UK sees a sustained reduction in the number of new infections.

Once that point is reached, the health-care component of the strategy calls for deploying an 18,000-strong corps to implement contact-tracing, which involves interviewing people who test positive for the virus to identify persons they might have infected.

“If somebody has symptoms they take themselves out of society as they would now, but anybody who has been in contact with them – in a very anonymized and safe data-managed way using a phone app – will be alerted,” Dr. Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said during Saturday’s briefing.

And though she noted with satisfaction that the number of UK residents hospitalized with coronavirus declined 13 percent in the last week, an indication that the peak of the outbreak has passed, Harries stressed the need for caution as leaders contemplate the next steps.

“Any of the adjustments to the current measures which have worked so well … need to be very carefully adjusted in order that we do not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelmed the NHS (National Health Service),” she said. EFE gx/dr

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