Tuesday, 27 Oct 2020

British PM Johnson blames 'complacent' public for coronavirus surge

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people in the United Kingdom became “complacent” about social-distancing rules in recent months, as his own scientific advisers warned it was still “highly likely” that the coronavirus epidemic is growing exponentially across the country.

In a BBC interview, Mr Johnson blamed the rise in cases on the “fraying of people’s discipline” over the summer and said the rules weren’t obeyed or enforced properly.

“We came together as a country, we got the numbers down and I’m afraid some of the muscle memory has faded,” Mr Johnson said.

His comments will inflame the debate about the government’s imposition of restrictions to control the pandemic.

Mr Johnson’s own finance minister Rishi Sunak subsidised meals out during August to encourage people to spend money in restaurants and bars, a programme some have blamed for the rise in infections.

On Friday, chancellor of the exchequer Sunak weighed in with a passionate call to keep businesses open, an argument that will delight some of Mr Johnson’s internal critics in the Conservative Party who say he’s being too cautious.

WIDE COSTS

“We have got to look at this in the round,” Mr Sunak said in an interview with the Tory party pressure group, Blue Collar Conservatives.

“The costs of coronavirus are far wider than just the number of people affected by coronavirus.”

Mr Johnson warned this week he would not hesitate to impose further measures if necessary to contain the disease, which his chief scientific adviser said isn’t under control in the UK.

The government’s strategy is to respond to outbreaks around the country with varying restrictions, while keeping as much of the economy running as possible.

“We are all Conservatives, we believe in a market economy,” Mr Sunak said.

“That’s the only long term way we can have things working. We can’t nationalise and pay everyone’s bills forever and a day.”

The premier has faced growing criticism over his handling of the pandemic, including from members of his own Conservative Party, some of whom have accused his administration of mixed messaging, over-complicated local restrictions and a failure to get to grips with testing.

Tensions came to a head this week when Mr Johnson apologised for getting his own government’s social distancing rules wrong.

‘BAD EXPERIENCES’

On Friday, he also apologised for failings in the government’s testing system he said had led people to have what he called “bad experiences”.

Official data on Friday put the so-called R number, or the rate at which the virus multiplies, at between 1.3 and 1.6 across the country, up on last week’s estimate of 1.2 to 1.5.

That was higher than the estimate from a major study from Imperial College London on Thursday suggesting the rate may have fallen to 1.1, from 1.7 in late August and early September. The number refers to how many people each new coronavirus case infects.

“More data are needed to accurately assess any recent changes in transmission and it is still highly likely that the epidemic is growing exponentially across the country,” the Government Office for Science said in an e-mailed statement.

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