The latest Worldometer’s report of 18th May 2020, confirm that there are 243,695 coronavirus cases in the UK and 34,636 people with the virus have already died. Officially, the overall death toll in the UK remains the highest in Europe. 

The government as far back as 24th February informed BBC that it was well prepared to deal with coronavirus cases. Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral and Kents Hill Park conference centre in Milton Keynes have been designated as “isolation” facilities. At the same time they confirmed that they would continue to work closely with the World Health Organization. As of February, the Health and Public Health Department confirmed that certain steps to control the COVID-19 spread had been taken. Specialist teams in every ambulance service were in place in some hospital units. Coronavirus tests were being developed to allow more than 1,000 people to be tested each day. Increased monitoring of direct flights from China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Macau were also being instituted. Lastly, legal provisions were also being drafted in February to keep people suspected of being infected in isolation.

The Parliament of UK has introduced emergency powers on 19th March by so called Coronavirus Act 2020. Despite rising numbers of cases state of emergency was not declared. Emergency powers allows the government to respond rapidly to a public emergency by making regulations without an act of parliament and taking actions that it would not normally be allowed to take. The regulations introduced under emergency powers can for example allow people to be quarantined against their will, if necessary.

Strict new curbs on life in the UK to tackle the spread of coronavirus have been announced by the prime minister on 24th March. The official website of the UK government has issued strict restrictions for the movement of people. People could only leave home to exercise once a day, travel to and from work when it was absolutely necessary, shop for essential items and fulfil any medical or care needs. UK citizens have been officially advised to stay home and to keep apart in public.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has advised against all non-essential international travel on 17th March. This change in travel advice reflected the pace at which other countries were either closing their borders or implementing restrictive measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though as of 30th March, British Airways was still functioning. All UK citizens has been strongly advised to return to the UK if they had been traveling abroad.

Across the world, face coverings were becoming mandatory but the UK government has been adamant that there’s not enough evidence to support such a move. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has stated on 30th April that the UK government’s stance on face masks has not changed. The Scottish government however, was recommending that people use face masks when on public transport or in shops. During the government’s briefing on coronavirus, Boris Johnson said face coverings would give people confidence that they can go back to work once the lockdown measures are eased.

Boris Johnson made a statement at one of his daily briefings, announcing that all schools in the UK were to close on 20th March to everyone except those who had parents with important jobs they could not do from home. With press briefings on 7th May, Foreign Secretary has declared that any small changes to restrictions would continue to be carefully monitored henceforth. Primary schools were said to reopen on 1st June, as part of Boris Johnson’s blueprint for reopening the UK, but Health Secretary warned that schools may not reopen till September. As of 17th May it was already decided that schools will reopen from June 1 following the coronavirus shutdown, starting with some primary years.

The UK did not announce any confirmed news of easing lockdown restrictions and was preparing for the second wave of the virus attack by attempting to ensure that the healthcare system can cope with the numbers, by ensuring a constant supply of test kits and controlling the daily death and infection rate figures. As of 10th May, the UK government updated its coronavirus message from „stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives“ to „stay alert, control the virus, save lives“. On 11th May the UK government published a 50-page document setting out further details of the phases for lifting the lockdown restrictions, with phase one starting on 13th May. However, there are no confirmed dates for steps two and three of easing the lockdown.

The UK’s economy is on track for its deepest downturn „in living memory“, according to BBC, as businesses suffer from the lockdown. Lastly, UK has announced increased support for small businesses specifically to England and other financial plans for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. In terms of local business, in the first budget in March, Mr. Sunak, announced GBP 30 billion package of support and then an even bigger lifeline by pledging GBP 330 billion worth of guarantees to help businesses survive the coronavirus crisis. The government has also subsidized a significant part of employees‘ wages (about 80%) in the most affected business. Other important economic measures to protect people have also been taken, such as coronavirus business grants, business rates holiday for tax year 2020-21, business rates holiday for nurseries, protection if you can’t pay your commercial rent, more time to pay corporation tax or mortgage and rent payment holidays.

Written by Nikkon Balial, April 2020.