Reluctant last orders as England enters new lockdown

After downing a final round of drinks, queueing outside soon-to-close shops or getting a last haircut, England’s 56 million people entered a second coronavirus lockdown on Thursday with more doubts about the stringent policy than the first time around.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson abandoned a recently introduced system of regional curbs and announced an England-wide shutdown, after dire warnings that hospitals could soon be overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases. The death toll is hitting six-month highs.

But while opinion polls suggest overall public backing for the stay-at-home policy, concerns are mounting about the impact on the economy and on mental health. A sizeable minority of 32 Conservative MPs voted against the measures on Wednesday.

When the country entered its first lockdown in bright March springtime, support was strong. But compliance with coronavirus measures has been fraying the longer they drag on into the winter, as people’s livelihoods come under greater strain.

“We will be paying this off for years,” said Joe Curran, the landlord of The Queen’s Head pub in the Soho area of central London. “This lockdown will cost us thousands on top of the thousands so far.”

A new study of more than 6,000 adults by King’s College London found one-quarter believed they had already contracted Covid-19 during the first wave, a much higher level of infection than government scientists estimate.

Many in the study stated they were therefore immune and free to breach lockdown rules.

Johnson, the Conservative leader, stressed that the latest measures would end “automatically” on December 2, when England will revert to a tiered system of curbs to reflect differing infection levels in individual regions.

Britain is among the world’s hardest-hit countries with nearly 48,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus from just over one million positive cases.

A total of 492 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were recorded on Wednesday — the highest number since mid-May.

England joined the other nations of the UK — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — in imposing another lockdown, in line with European nations including France and Germany. (AFP)