LONDON — U.K. opposition leader Keir Starmer urged government scientists to set out options to further tighten coronavirus restrictions, warning the country was entering “the darkest weeks” of the pandemic.
The leader of the Labour Party said closing nurseries and banning property viewings for people moving house could be among additional new measures needed as the U.K. battles surging COVID cases.
A national lockdown is already in place in England, with people only permitted to leave their home for a limited number of reasons. However, Starmer said in some areas restrictions are looser than the original lockdown in March last year.
“We need to see the evidence behind nurseries, but I think a lot of people will be quite surprised that primary schools are closed and nurseries are open. That needs to be looked at,” he said, in response to questions after a speech on the post-pandemic economy.
“It is still possible at the moment to go and view houses … that wasn’t allowed last March. We’re in this extraordinary situation where — having got to at least as serious if not a more serious situation than in March of last year — we’ve got lesser restrictions in place. And we need those in place as soon as possible.”
U.K. hospitals are under greater pressure now than they have been at any stage in the pandemic, and infection rates remain high despite the imposition a week ago of the new national lockdown in England, alongside similar restrictions in other parts of the U.K. The country as a whole recorded 54,940 new infections Sunday, while in England 30,758 patients were in hospitals with COVID as of Sunday morning.
Starmer said he wanted to hear from government scientists “in the next few hours” on what more could be done to slow the spread of the virus. A government press conference is expected on Monday afternoon.
Speaking to the BBC earlier on Monday, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that a “tinkering with the rules may be useful” but that the “far more important” factor for driving down infection rates would be to ensure the public “abides by the spirit of the rules that are there at the moment.”
Following reports that Health Secretary Matt Hancock has spoken to Labour former Tony Blair about pandemic policy, Starmer also confirmed he had consulted with the former Labour prime minister.
“Tony Blair has done a lot of work on the vaccine and the pandemic,” Starmer said. “I know he’s been talking to the health secretary … we’ve all got a responsibility to ensure that the vaccine is delivered as quickly and as safely as possible. The more advice and support we can get from anyone the better.”
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Labour’s Keir Starmer wants tighter UK coronavirus curbs The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Politico.