by Jitendra JOSHI
Agence France Presse
LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — Millions more people headed into coronavirus lockdowns in Britain on Friday, as the government boosted a financial support package but acknowledged failures in a hugely expensive testing programme.
Central Manchester was eerily quiet after the central government imposed its most stringent measures on the city and its surrounding region, following bitter resistance from local leaders who wanted more money to help affected businesses and workers.
The English county of South Yorkshire will also face the same “very high” alert from Saturday, with many pubs and other hospitality venues closing and residents banned from mixing with others indoors.
The latest measures add to the regions already classed as very high risk or tier three, meaning roughly 7.3 million people in England will be living under England’s most stringent restrictions from the weekend.
In addition, the devolved government in Wales has ordered its more than three million people to stay at home from 6:00 pm (1700 GMT), closing non-food retailers, cafes, restaurants, pubs and hotels for two weeks.
The UK is battling to get a grip on a resurgence of Covid-19, which has killed more than 44,000 people in total — Europe’s worst national toll.
But the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted calls for a second national lockdown, arguing that its tiered system is better suited to target regions facing the biggest threat.
On Thursday, the government improved a national jobs-support scheme after businesses hit by regional lockdowns claimed it did not go far enough to replace a furlough package that expires this month.
The Treasury did not divulge the overall cost but Johnson promised “billions more”.
“We’re doing everything we can to support businesses through this crisis,” he told a news conference.
To protect the economy and avoid more lockdowns, the government has set great store by an ambitious programme to test people for Covid-19 and trace their contacts. The reported cost so far runs to more than £12 billion ($16 billion).
But the numbers of people being tested and traced are falling well short of official targets, and government scientists say the programme is having only a marginal impact on controlling infection rates.
“I share people’s frustrations and I understand totally why we do need to see faster turnaround times (for test results), and we need to improve it,” Johnson conceded at Thursday’s news conference, vowing to ramp up the programme.
Scotland was expected to announce a new five-tier plan of localised measures on Friday.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already extended the closure of pubs and restaurants in the centre of the country for a third week to November 2.
© Agence France-Presse