UK to consider evidence before deciding on coronavirus next steps

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will consider evidence provided by scientists at a review on Thursday (May 7) before taking any decision on the next steps against the coronavirus outbreak, his spokesman said on Tuesday.

Britain must review the measures put in place six weeks ago in two days’ time, but any decision could come after that to allow ministers to consider and approve any changes to a lockdown that has all but shut the economy and kept millions at home.

Asked whether Johnson would make a statement unveiling measures covering the next phase of Britain’s plan against COVID-19 on Sunday, the spokesman said: “I think what matters is that we get this right, that we fully consider all the evidence and ensure that we can communicate the next steps whatever they may be in a very clear way to the public.”

“We’re looking at a range of possible easements to social distancing measures and we’re also looking if in some areas they need to be toughened. Once we have the scientific evidence and we’ve completed the review process, we will be able to set out what those are.”

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Britain is expected to set out guidelines to allow some businesses to return to work, through measures including rules to keep workers distanced from each other and staggering work times, and possibly easing rules on social gatherings.

On the guidelines for business to return to work, the spokesman said the advice had yet to be finalised.

“We are continuing working with the unions on developing sensible guidance for businesses that will give UK workers the utmost confidence that they can return to work safely,” he added.

Asked whether Britain could allow small social gatherings to take place outside, the spokesman said scientific advice suggesting that there is less likelihood of transmission outdoors would be considered in the government’s review.

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Th government’s top scientific advisers told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that ramping up COVID-19 testing earlier would have helped the United Kingdom by allowing it to trace the contacts of those infected with the coronavirus.

The British government has stepped up testing over the past month, with 945,299 people tested so far, though opposition parties say Johnson was too slow to accelerate the scheme.

Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance told parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee he was sure that on reflection there would be things that could have been done differently.

“In the early phases, I think if we’d managed to ramp testing capacity quicker it would have been beneficial,” said Vallance, GlaxoSmithKline’s former president of research and development.

“For all sorts of reasons that didn’t happen,” said Vallance. “It’s completely wrong to think of testing as the answer – it’s just part of the system that you need to get right.”

The United Kingdom has overtaken Italy to report the highest official death toll from coronavirus in Europe with more than 32,000 deaths, figures released on Tuesday showed.

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