How long will UK lockdown last? When strict rules could end and what needs to happen first

The UK is preparing to enter its third week in lockdown, with people instructed to stay at home to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Sunday, 5th April 2020, 9:37 am
Updated Sunday, 5th April 2020, 9:38 am

But how long is it likely to last and who will decide when and how to end the restrictions?

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The UK is in lockdown to try to halt the spread of coronavirus.

- When will the UK end lockdown?

It is not yet clear when the UK will be able to lift its strict social distancing and lockdown measures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to review the measures for the first time next week, however when asked about an exit strategy at the daily press conference yesterday, Michael Gove said: “There's no fixed point, no specific date in the calendar at which we can say things will change, we are keeping them under review.”

One key Government doctor has said some measures may be in place for up to six months.

Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, said of the rules last week: “Three weeks for review, two or three months to see if we've really squashed it, but three to six months, ideally, but lots of uncertainty in that but then to see at which point we can actually get back to normal and it is plausible it could go further than that.

“This is not to say we would be in complete lockdown for six months, but as a nation we have to be really, really responsible and keep doing what we're all doing until we're sure we can gradually start lifting various interventions which are likely to be spaced - based on the science and our data - until we gradually come back to a normal way of living.”

What needs to happen before the lockdown can end?

Ministers and scientists have been reluctant to say what requirements must be met before they relax the rules, and are still emphasising the importance of maintaining social distancing.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma warned there could be another rise in cases if the measures are lifted too quickly.

He told a press conference on Wednesday: “What's also really important is that if we stop these too quickly, there is a possibility that that massive effort people have made across the country is wasted and we could potentially see a dangerous second peak.

“We absolutely want to avoid that.”

One scientist has suggested that mobile phone data could help lift social distancing quicker by speeding up contact tracing.

Prof Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “A combination of some social distancing measures, extensive testing and automated contact tracing could allow both a more regular social activity and a significant control of the outbreak.”

Who will decide when lockdown ends?

The decision to end lockdown in the UK will be made by the government alongside scientists and doctors.

When the measures were put in place last month, the Prime Minister said they would be reviewed every three weeks.

Top NHS doctor Professor Stephen Powis said scientists are still focusing on learning how the illness works.

He said yesterday: “It is very likely that this virus will become established in populations throughout the world and so we need a strategy to manage this over time, not just in the next few weeks or the next few months.

“Scientific knowledge about this virus is still being discovered.

“As we learn more about it, as the scientific evidence builds, that will allow those strategies to evolve.”

One scientist advising the Government told The Times the shutdown is merely buying time and there is no clear exit strategy from the Covid-19 crisis.

Professor Graham Medley said: “This disease is so nasty that we had to suppress it completely. Then we've kind of painted ourselves into a corner, because then the question will be, what do we do now?

“We will have done three weeks of this lockdown, so there's a big decision coming up on April 13. In broad terms are we going to continue to harm children to protect vulnerable people, or not?”

Have any other countries ended lockdown?

China has begun to lift measures, with shopping centres opening and people leaving their homes in Wuhan, the original epicentre of Covid-19.

However in Europe, many countries are extending the rules.

On Saturday, Spain extended its own measures until at least April 25, and in France rules will be in place until at least April 15, with a second extension expected.

Italy's lockdown will last until at least April 13.

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