How the UK is dealing with a spike in coronavirus cases
Just as the summer months have come to an end, so too have the freedoms granted to the British public since the easing of lockdown in July earlier this year. Part of the problem has been the fluidity of the government guidelines, which have been open to interpretation and, therefore, circumvention.
That fluidity has resulted in these measures being consistently flouted with people congregating in large groups, not maintaining social distancing, and mandatory wearing of masks neither followed nor enforced. Unsurprisingly, we are now witnessing in the UK a spike in coronavirus infection rates with growing concerns that the figures may increase exponentially, reaching 50,000 people infected by October this year as well as an increase in the death rate.
Reopening of cafés, restaurants, pubs, salons, and shops has given rise not only to a feeling of normality but also instilled in people a false sense of security. Especially with the number of total infections and deaths in England and Wales at their lowest in the first week of August since the outbreak of Covid-19. This action was, however, deemed necessary to kickstart a floundering economy.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and the government’s “Eat out to help out” scheme, which encouraged the public to help boost the devastated hospitality industry and save jobs by offering discounts at participating eateries for the month of August, was a success.
Almost too successful in fact, as people went out in droves to partake in the deal. With a 50% discount on food and non-alcoholic drinks (albeit only when eating in and not applicable to takeaways), with a maximum of 10 pounds per person, it was an offer that even Don Corleone would have found hard to refuse.
A collective sigh was heard when leisure centres, gyms, and swimming pools were opened to the public along with close contact services such as beauticians. And despite concerns among medical specialists and experts from the scientific community, nurseries, schools, and colleges also resumed classes on a full-time basis in September. Another risk, although it has offered parents a well-deserved respite.
Similarly, businesses were gradually encouraging staff to return to offices and their respective workplaces but may now have to reconsider as British PM Boris Johnson, in his recent speech, urged people to work from home if possible unless they were in construction or the hospitality industry.
Employers will have the discretion to bring staff back only if they feel it safe enough but given that many people have been reluctant to venture back to offices anyway, the deteriorating situation can only make it less likely that people will embrace a return to the office environment.
Universities recently opened their doors to over a million students returning to complete their studies or begin their degrees. This was after the dust had barely settled on the earlier chaos and controversy surrounding A-Level results. Many students had initially lost out on first-choice universities due to a government algorithm being recruited to decide their fates after it was decided exams could not be held as normal.
This led to an outcry from students and academics alike and was then scrapped in favour of centre-assessed grades (submitted by schools), which had students scrambling to secure places once again in their university of choice.
If the distress caused by all this was not enough, these students may now find themselves unable to go back home for Christmas if the very real prospect of a second lockdown materializes.
These measures are actively being considered by the government with the Covid-19 situation taking a turn for the worse.
Bars, restaurants, and pubs will now have to close at 10pm and only offer table service. This will be a blow to many businesses in the industry who are just about keeping their heads financially afloat with countless establishments forced to close shop if any stricter measures are imposed.
The new rules will make it mandatory for staff to wear masks as well as customers until they are seated at a table. It will also be compulsory for passengers of minicabs and taxis to wear masks.
The previous “mask on, mask off” rules were already a conundrum and do not seem to be any clearer this time round. With a section of the population dead set against wearing masks, it is anyone’s guess how effective the new regulations will be.
A Rule of Six is also now to be enforced where groups of more than six people will be banned from congregating both indoors and outdoors. This time fines will be issued for those breaking the rules. Though it does give rise to questions as to what happens if a family has more than six members or how it applies in an office environment, buses, or trains.
Boris Johnson gave a less bombastic speech than usual indicating the way we deal with the virus in the coming months will affect both infection and death rates and laid out the new and more robust measures that come into effect immediately.
While stating that failure to contain the spread may mean a second lockdown being imposed, he also stated he was averse to doing so, comparing it to a “nuclear deterrent.” The semblance of normalcy we were becoming accustomed to is fast coming to an end and confusion and restrictions may continue for six months if not more.
It appears we will have to brace ourselves for a prolonged period of rules, guidelines, policy measures, and possible lockdowns if we are to combat the virus effectively.
As we are acutely aware, the government’s delay in taking decisive action during the initial stages of the outbreak resulted in increased infection and death rates. Leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer expressed his concerns saying: “There is mounting concern about whether we have got the virus sufficiently under control. This is the time for swift, decisive, national action. We cannot afford to be too slow.”
Nadia Kabir Barb is a writer, journalist, and author of the short story collection Truth or Dare.