Government warns of ‘large epidemic waves’

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a statement in Downing Street in central London on April 27, 2020 after returning to work following more than three weeks off after being hospitalized with the COVID-19 illness.

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

The U.K. government released a 50-page document detailing the first stages of relaxing the country’s lockdown on Monday, following a public address by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday evening.  

It revealed that people in England are being advised to wear a face covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible, such as on public transport.

The country will also soon require people traveling from abroad — who are not coming from countries on a short list of exemptions — to self-isolate for two weeks on arrival into the U.K.

“This is not a short-term crisis. It is likely that COVID-19 will circulate in the human population long-term, possibly causing periodic epidemics. In the near future, large epidemic waves cannot be excluded without continuing some measures,” the document said.

There were updates on social distancing, with the document saying people can now meet up with one person from outside the household in an outdoors environment.

The details follow Johnson’s speech on Sunday, which outlined the government’s first tentative step to ease some strict coronavirus lockdown measures. Citizens who cannot work from home are being “actively encouraged” to go back to work and people will also be allowed to take unlimited amounts of exercise from Wednesday.

Very young children could be back at school by June 1 at the earliest, with older children having some time back with their teachers before the summer break. “Some hospitality places” could be open in July.

The plans are conditional on key criteria being met, such as the rate of infection remaining low. It also largely focuses on England, with the devolved governments in the U.K. having their own guidelines and shunning Johnson’s new “stay alert” message.

Last week, it was confirmed that the U.K. has the highest official death toll as a result of the coronavirus in Europe. The country surpassed Italy as the worst-hit country in the region and is now second only to the U.S. for Covid-19-related deaths worldwide. On Monday, the death toll hit 32,065 with a rise of 210 in the past 24 hours.

Experts have warned against international comparisons, citing differences in demographics and because each country has its own way of measuring the number of deaths. The U.K. only recently started adding deaths in the community, such as nursing homes, to its official statistics; previously, it had included only those who died in hospital.

The U.K. government has faced intense criticism from opposition parties, with some lawmakers suggesting Johnson was too slow to respond to the pandemic when it first emerged. The country’s restrictions were first imposed on March 23.

The U.K. leader — who himself has battled the disease and spent days in an intensive care unit — was initially reluctant to impose national lockdown measures at a time when hospitals in Italy were already being overrun. Downing Street has also come under fire for failing to provide enough protective equipment to hospitals and being late to roll out mass testing.

—CNBC’s Ryan Browne and Sam Meredith contributed to this article.

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