THE coronavirus lockdown has forced Brits to adapt to a completely new way of life.
Social distancing is vital to protecting the NHS and saving lives, experts say – but it is keeping most people away from their friends, family and loved ones.
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So what needs to happen before the Government can justify relaxing measures? And how long will it take?
When will the lockdown end?
When Boris Johnson addressed the nation on March 23 and announced the unprecedented lockdown, he told Brits it would be in place for an initial three weeks.
It’s understood after Easter weekend, the PM and his team of advisers will consider whether to extend or relax measures that are in place.
These measures are aimed at protecting the NHS and saving lives.
It is part of the Government’s “delay” phase, which hopes to reduce the peak of infections – and extend the time over which cases happen – to reduce pressure on the NHS.
It’s unlikely lockdown measures will be relaxed until it becomes clear that infections are reducing and the death toll starts to slow.
Experts have suggested lockdown might last between three weeks and six months, while others fear some measures will be in place longer.
A vaccine for Covid-19 is the ultimate goal but is likely to take at least six months to a year before it’s made available.
Meanwhile, testing is of the utmost importance – with hopes being pinned on the antibody test, which can tell if a person has had the disease and is immune to it.
So what needs to happen before lockdown can be lifted?
1. Mass testing
Mass testing is believed to be Britain’s exit strategy for beating coronavirus and lifting the lockdown.
According to University College London’s Professor Anthony Costello, the lockdown could be lifted in six to eight weeks if the Government follows in the footsteps of South Korea – who have carried out 400,000 tests and got Covid-19 relatively under control.
Meanwhile, Professor Neil Ferguson, whose team at Imperial College London has been advising the Government, hinted that current restrictions would “almost certainly” be lifted once testing is ramped up.
He told the BBC: “We want case numbers to get to a low point where we can start substituting other measures for the most intrusive and economically costly aspects of the current lockdown and almost certainly these additional measures will involve massively ramped up testing going back to trying to identify contacts of cases and stopping chains of transmission.
“That can only feasibly be done when we have many fewer cases per day than we have at the moment.”
The government has rolled out plans to bump up mass testing over the next month.
In his April 2 press briefing, Health and Social Secretary Matt Hancock said that the UK hopes to be testing 100,000 people a day by the end of the month.
Other countries such as China and Germany have used mass testing to great effect to identify those most at risk and isolate areas where there are hotspots.
The NHS is currently working on a contact tracing app which would notify people if they have come into close contact with someone who later tests positive for coronavirus.
It will allow people to quickly self-isolate before spreading it to too many people.
The strategy was successful in other countries including South Korea, where just 186 people have died from Covid-19.
2. Social distancing
The second strategy is social distancing – and the Government’s rules are to stay at home and only leave the house if you absolutely have to.
Officials say the only reason you should be leaving your house are:
- Shopping for basic necessities, including food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
- One form of exercise a day, for example, a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
- Any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
- Travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home
These reasons are exceptions – but even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home.
You must also ensure you are 2 metres apart from anyone outside of your household.
If you have even mild or seemingly unrelated symptoms then you must self isolate until days after they pass or you will infect others and that has a knock-on effect.
Those who are at very high risk of coronavirus, such as the elderly or those with underlying conditions, have been asked to rigorously follow “shielding” measures in order to keep themselves safe.
This group of highly vulnerable people have been written to by the NHS and advised to stay at home at all times.
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3. Containment and tracking
While the UK is past the containment stage, tracking is still important and will continue to be even once cases peak.
Iceland, with a relatively small population of around 364,000, has been using detectives to track down potential contact cases and testing aggressively since the outset to isolate everyone, including those who are remotely at risk but show no symptoms.
This draconian action, led by scientists and civil servants instead of politicians, has lead to them becoming one of the only countries in the world not to enforce lockdown measures.
Similar measures were used at the beginning of the outbreak in the UK, but weren’t as effective and the country moved to the “delay” phase.
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