Plans for the easing of England’s third national lockdown are due to be outlined by the Prime Minister next week (22 February), but local measures may still be needed throughout the year.
Reports suggest that under plans being developed, postcode lockdowns will continue to be implemented in order to contain the spread of new mutant Covid-19 strains, even as national restrictions start to be lifted.
How might restrictions work?
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It has been suggested that postcode lockdowns would be implemented along with surge testing and detailed contact tracing to identify any cases of new coronavirus strains, in the hope this will eradicate the mutation early, according to The Times.
It is expected that the restrictions put in place in local areas could vary based on the level of risk posed from particular Covid-19 variants, with tougher rules likely to be implemented for more infectious strains.
‘Senior government sources’ are said to have told the newspaper that Downing Street is aware that localised restrictions might still be needed.
One source is reported to have said: “Clearly it is not a problem at the moment because of the existing lockdown restrictions.
“But there is a big question about what you do when lockdown does start lifting and we see variants that we have concerns about.
“It is definitely something that we’re aware of that will need to be considered. But we need to work out exactly what the mechanisms are that we need to have in place.”
Plans for exactly how local restrictions will be managed may be set out in the Prime Minister’s roadmap exit strategy announcement on Monday (22 February).
Nigerian Covid variant
The possibility of localised restrictions throughout the year comes as another new strain of coronavirus has been found in the UK, with officials confirming a Nigerian variant in the country.
The new variant, known as B1525, has been seen in other countries including Australia, Denmark, Nigeria, Canada and the US, and its mutation from the original strain of the virus has been traced back to December, when cases were reported in the UK and Nigeria.
It contains the same genetic change (E484K) which has also been found in the Brazilian and South African variants, with laboratory studies showing that viruses with this mutation can escape human defences, making them more efficient at evading natural and vaccine-triggered immunity.
Areas in Greater Manchester, along with postcodes in Norfolk, Southampton and Surrey are being given door-to-door surge testing in an effort to help control and suppress the spread of the variant.
Despite the impending announcement for easing lockdown next week, Boris Johnson stopped short of vowing that England’s third national lockdown would be its last, due to the ongoing emergence of mutations.
Mr Johnson warned that such mutations meant he could not promise restrictions will not need to be implemented again, with the PM instead promising a “cautious and prudent approach”.