**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.
Britain imposed a 14-day quarantine on all arrivals from France, the Netherlands, Malta as of Saturday (15 August), UK Transport Minister Grant Shapps said on 13 August, citing rising COVID-19 infection rates.
The British government, wary of a second wave of coronavirus, has been removing countries from its safe travel list over the last few weeks based on infection data.
“Data shows we need to remove France, the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks & Caicos & Aruba from our list of #coronavirus Travel Corridors to keep infection rates DOWN,” Shapps said on Twitter.
“If you arrive in the UK after 0400 Saturday from these destinations, you will need to self-isolate for 14 days,” he added.
For UK holidaymakers, France is the second most-visited country behind first-choice destination Spain – which has already been removed from the safe travel list. Almost 13 million Britons travelled to France in 2017, data from Statista showed.
In response, France said it would impose a reciprocal measure, French junior minister for European affairs Clément Beaune said late on Thursday (13 August).
“A British decision that we regret and which will lead to a measure of reciprocity, hoping that things will return to normal as soon as possible,” Beaune said on Twitter at midnight.
As of Friday (17 August), the UK has recorded about 316,367 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 41,366 related deaths. As of 5 May, the UK surpassed Italy to have the highest death toll in Europe.
Controlling the virus as restrictions ease
From 4 July, pubs, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers, cinemas and museums re-opened.
People were also allowed to meet indoors and stay overnight with family and friends as long as social distancing measures were respected.
Although the government believes the virus to be under control, the former chief scientific advisor Sir David King is among a number of scientists who have expressed concern that the lockdown measures are being eased too quickly.
First phase of easing measures lacked clarity
Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined plans for the first stages of lifting lockdown measures in the form of a conditional timetable during a televised address to the nation on 10 May. This comes after ministers submitted plans to ease the lockdown after Johnson told a press on 30 April that the UK is “past the peak, and we are on the downward slope.”
While the PM had urged for care to avoid a second wave, he also announced that people arriving in the UK by air will be subject to quarantine. The government’s “stay at home, save lives” message was swapped in favour of “stay alert.”
What lacked clarity was the issue of reopening schools.
Although the government successfully pushed for its initial plan to reopen primary schools for children aged 4-11 as of 1 June, it faced opposition from local authorities and teachers’ unions. That is because over 1,000 primary schools in England were expected to remain closed given the high levels of infection in their communities.
Confusion also came in early June. MPs faced the bizarre spectacle of queuing for over 40 minutes in socially-distanced lines outside the House of Commons to vote for a bill that would put an end to the “hybrid” voting system, which consisted of some MPs voting in the Commons and others doing so via video link since Parliament reopened in mid-April.
However, the government has been accused of discriminating against those who cannot attend Parliament for age or medical reasons, who will still be able to question the government remotely but not to vote.
On top of that, the PM’s chief political advisor, Dominic Cummings faced criticism for driving 400 kilometres to stay in the property of his parents’ farm in Durham, where he and his wife and son self-isolated while suffering coronavirus symptoms, breaching official government guidance.
While Cummings denied any wrongdoing and the PM insisted his advisor had acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity”, two opposition leaders, as well as about 40 Conservative lawmakers had called for the Cummings to step down. On 28 May, Durham police said they did not consider Cummings had committed an offence when he had travelled from London Durham, noting he might have committed a minor breach when travelling from there to Barnard Castle.
‘Too early’ for life after COVID
PM Boris Johnson said on 27 April that it was “too early” to ease up restrictions as a second wave would be a “disaster,” stressing the importance of only relaxing measures when they can be sure there will be no second peak.
Earlier in April, Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer had urged the government to give its position on “how and when” the lockdown will be eased, as well as the “criteria” for such a decision. “It is no longer about whether the lockdown should be extended,” he added.
Starmer’s comments came after Neil Ferguson, a professor at Imperial College London and scientific advisor to the British government, told BBC Radio 4 on 10 April that the UK’s exit strategy would likely “be targeted by age (or) geography,” suggesting young adults may be the first allowed to resume their normal routines.
According to the UK’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Witty, the UK could be looking at social distancing for the rest of 2020. Scots would also have to learn to “live alongside” the coronavirus with social-distancing measures in place, including into the next year, according to a 26-page report on plans to phase out the lockdown measures published on 23 April.
Witty also told reporters on 22 April that any chances of a vaccine before the end of the year are “very small”, and therefore, a return to normalcy soon is “wholly unrealistic.”
Read more about what to expect in the UK:
- ‘You must stay at home,’ UK cracks down on movement to curb COVID
- UK could suffer 66,000 death toll from COVID-19, US study forecasts
‘Brexit means Brexit’
Brexit negotiations were put on hold on 17 March as the government wrote in a statement that it “will not formally be convening negotiating work strands” due to COVID-19.
Officials were nonetheless exploring possibilities to conduct upcoming talks via video-conferencing calls and, at the time, earmarked a mid-June meeting as the point when it will decide whether to walk away from the talks.
However, Michael Gove, the UK minister in charge of post-Brexit trade with the EU insisted on 27 April that it is “entirely possible” to have a deal by the end of December 2020 and that a tight timeline should ‘concentrate’ minds, brushing aside a recent critical assessment from Brussels.
For more about Brexit, read the following:
- UK to blame hard Brexit on COVID-19, warns EU trade chief
- UK ‘putting Brexit over breathing’ as Johnson opts out of EU COVID scheme
- EU hopes for tangible progress in Brexit talks by June
- Barnier: UK is derailing post-Brexit trade pact
A struggling health system and a few mishaps
Back in March, the PM said in a televised address that a “huge national effort” had been needed to halt the spread, adding the warning that “there will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope because there won’t be enough ventilators, enough intensive care beds, enough doctors and nurses.”
To prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the creation of a new 250,000-strong corps of “NHS Volunteer Responders” that same day.
On 19 April, the government was forced to admit that there had been further delays to their plans to obtain protective kits for NHS staff and care workers and PM Johnson was discharged from hospital. The government was plunged into fresh confusion on 21 April after it decided to opt-out of an EU procurement scheme for urgently needed medical equipment.
The Foreign Office’s top civil servant, Sir Simon McDonald told MPs that ministers had made a “political decision” to stay out and source equipment from domestic and international firms, adding that “the UK mission in Brussels briefed ministers about what was available, what was on offer, and the decision is known.”
However, just hours later, McDonald sent a letter to committee chairman Tom Tugendhat retracting his statement. Citing a “misunderstanding,” he stated that no such briefing by the UK Mission in Brussels had taken place.
The health sector also came under attack as hackers have been targeting the health sector hunting for information, including COVID-19 data and vaccine research, according to a joint UK-US warning issued on 5 May.
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) stated that they had identified large-scale ‘password spraying’ campaigns against healthcare bodies and medical research organisations, which hackers try to use commonly used passwords to access accounts.
Hackers from China, Russia and Iran are believed to be behind the attacks.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission launched an inquiry to examine “the loss of lives and livelihoods” of people from different ethnic minorities after a report by Public Health England revealed that people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other Black ethnicities had between a 10% and 50% higher risk of death from coronavirus compared to white Britons.
On 4 June, Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch told the House of Commons that the higher death toll was not the result of “systemic injustice.”
For more stories on how the NHS has been coping with the virus, click below:
- Boris Johnson says medics saved his life as UK deaths pass 10,000 mark
- UK pushes ahead with contact tracing app; EDPB issues privacy warnings
- UK video games to deliver ‘geotargeted’ COVID-19 warnings to players
- UK opens first COVID hospital but criticism of testing plans mount
- EU’s Brexit negotiator Barnier says he has COVID-19
‘Unprecedented’ economic plans from a ‘war-time’ government
Boris Johnson’s government will “act like any wartime government” and do “whatever it takes,” Chancellor Rishi Sunak told reporters at a press conference on 17 March, describing the government’s plans as “intervention in the economy that would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago.”
The PM himself told a press conference on 20 March that his government would support the British people in a way “never done before.”
So far, it has enacted a stimulus package, which includes a massive new government loan guarantee scheme for businesses hit by COVID-19, as well as a three month mortgage holiday, worth around 15% of the UK’s total GDP and far exceeds the scale of the rescue measures taken in the wake of the 2008 financial crash.
As part of its “coronavirus job retention scheme”, the government has committed to help pay wages, for the first time in UK history.
However, the UK’s Office for Budgetary Responsibility’s 7 April forecast that the UK could suffer a 12% fall in economic output in 2020 and record a budget deficit of over £270 billion.
British Airways (BA), for instance, is going to cut up to 12,000 jobs from its 42,000-strong workforce, after already putting almost 23,000 staff on furlough. BA saw its revenues for the first quarter of 2020 fall by 13% and is anticipating heavy losses over the rest of the year.
In a letter to the company’s staff, chief executive Alex Cruz said that “there is no government bailout standing by for BA,” adding that “we cannot expect the taxpayer to offset salaries indefinitely.”
Besides bailouts, the UK government has said it could buy airlines, bus companies and train operators under public ownership to preserve transport links during the coronavirus outbreak.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs that the government could step in to “prevent companies from going bust” during the pandemic but that any period of public ownership would be a temporary measure.
Meanwhile, four in 10 British pubs face going out of business by September unless they get further financial support from the government to compensate them for lost business from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the British Beer and Pubs Association, the association announced on 7 May.
It is also calling for the government to extend its grant scheme for hospitality businesses to provide financial support for several months after the end of the lockdown.
Besides, the BBC announced major job cuts in the wake of the pandemic with commercial broadcasters and news media suffering large drops in advertising revenue. One in six BBC England staff, a total of 450 jobs, will be made redundant as part of deep cuts to taxpayer-funded broadcaster’s regional television and radio services.
For more information on the UK economy in COVID times, check here:
- UK unveils ‘wartime’ €400 billion COVID bailout programme
- UK faces 35% economic slump from COVID-19 lockdown
- LONDON – pubs face last orders
Dropping the ‘herd immunity approach’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson eventually put the UK on lockdown on 16 March, dropping his controversial ‘herd immunity’ approach, championed by the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
Vallance had told Sky News that “millions of Britons” will need to contract coronavirus in order to control the impact of the disease which is likely to return “year on year.”
While UK schools were closed from 20 March until further notice and exams due in May and June would be cancelled, the PM also ordered all pubs, bars, restaurants, and cafes to close, urged 65,000 retired doctors and nurses to return to the NHS and announced the import of 2.6 million face masks and 10,000 bottles of hand sanitiser in the last 24 hours.