UK eyes tougher lockdown measures as virus soars

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Sunday that more onerous lockdown restrictions in England are likely in the coming weeks as the country reels from a new coronavirus variant that has pushed infection rates to their highest recorded levels.

Johnson, though, insisted he has “no doubt” that schools are safe and urged parents to send their children back into the classroom in areas of England where they can. Unions representing teachers have called for schools to turn to remote learning for at least a couple of weeks more due to the new variant, which scientists have said is up to 70% more contagious.

The U.K. is in the midst of an acute outbreak, recording more than 50,000 new coronavirus infections a day over the past six days. On Sunday, it notched up another 54,990 cases, down slightly from the previous day’s daily record of 57,725. The country also recorded another 454 virus-related deaths to take the total to 75,024. According to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the U.K. is alternating with Italy as the worst-hit European nation.

“We are entirely reconciled to do what it takes to get the virus under control, that may involve tougher measures in the weeks ahead,” Johnson said in an interview with the BBC. “Obviously there are a range of tougher measures that we would have to consider.”

Johnson conceded that school closures, curfews and the total banning of household mixing could be on the agenda for areas under the most stress.

Johnson’s Conservative government is using a tiered coronavirus restrictions system. Most of England is already at the highest Tier 4 level, which involves the closure of shops not selling nonessential items and places like gyms and recreation centers as well as a stay-at-home instruction.

“What we are using now is the tiering system, which is a very tough system, and alas probably about to get tougher to keep things under control,” he said. “We’ll review it and we have the prospect of vaccines coming down the tracks in their tens of millions, offering people literally life and hope.”

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