UK govt asked to reveal lockdown strategy
China Daily

A padlocked gate blocks access to Dunville Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland on Sunday as the lockdown in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak continues. (Photo: Agencies)

Calls for the British government to provide an exit plan to end the novel coronavirus lockdown have intensified and questions have emerged over the government's preparedness during the early stages of the outbreak.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer highlighted how other countries have begun to relax their measures, and writing in the Mail on Sunday, said: "The government was too slow to enter the lockdown …too slow to increase the number of people being tested … too slow in getting NHS staff the critical equipment they need."

Israel has announced that it will begin a gradual easing of its strict novel coronavirus lockdown, and other countries including Denmark have begun opening up primary schools while Norway is set to reopen kindergartens on Monday.

Germany will reopen some schools on May 4 although the most populous state will begin opening up from Monday, while Sweden has kept its schools open throughout the crisis. Iran will allow bazaars and shopping malls to reopen from Monday, while Poland is progressively lifting its lockdown measures with shops among the businesses allowed to reopen.

This comes as figures, from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, recorded a grim and historic milestone of more than 100,000 total deaths in European countries, excluding Russia.

Spain has now seen more than 20,453 deaths since the start of the pandemic and almost 200,000 reported cases. Italy still has the highest number of deaths on the continent with 23,227 fatalities.

In a televised briefing, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the country had left behind "the most extreme moments and contained the brutal onslaught of the pandemic".

In the United Kingdom's Sunday news briefing, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the government is "enormously grateful" to teachers and staff in schools who have continued to work and care for vulnerable children, or those of key workers.

He added: " 'I want nothing more than to see schools back to normal. But I can't give you a date when schools will reopen fully".

It comes after a Sunday Times report said schools could reopen as early as May 11 as part of an exit plan.

The UK's Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the government will make a "balanced judgement" when deciding how to relax the novel coronavirus lockdown. Gove also dismissed the Sunday Times report that schools would soon open as "not true".

The government does not yet have the information to show it would be safe to lift the restrictions, Gove told the BBC. He said the UK government was taking "a deliberately cautious and measured approach guided by the science".

The UK's lockdown was extended on Thursday for another three weeks. Strict limits on daily life-such as requiring people to stay at home, shutting many businesses and preventing gatherings of more than two people-were first introduced on March 23, as the government tried to limit the spread of novel coronavirus. The latest figures for the UK show more than 16,060 people have died in hospitals.

Gove also said that while the government was investing in trying to get a vaccine for COVID-19 as "quickly as possible" it could not be certain when it would be ready.

A team at Oxford University has created a potential vaccine that is due to begin human trials within two weeks. Sarah Gilbert, the vaccinologist leading the team, said: "Nobody can be sure that it is possible to find a workable vaccine".

She told the BBC: "That's why we have to do trials to find out. The prospects are very good, but it is not completely certain."

The British government faced intense pressure on Sunday over its initial response to the pandemic, as a report in The Sunday Times claimed Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been absent from five emergency meetings during the crucial weeks when the virus first arrived in the UK.

The report also claimed the UK shipped valuable stores of personal protective equipment, or PPE, to China in February. A shortage of PPE for National Health Service and care home staff has been a repeated criticism of the UK response to novel coronavirus.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Gove refuted much of the Sunday Times story, but accepted it was true that PPE was sent to China "to help with the most extreme outbreak in Wuhan".

The PPE had not come from pandemic stockpiles, Gove said, and since then the UK had received "far more" PPE from China, he added.

Former UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt says the pandemic has shown the need for countries to work together in a new global health system involving better cooperation between governments. Hunt told The Observer newspaper global health security would now be "on that small but critical list" of issues, such as climate change, that can only be solved through international working.