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With three weeks of lockdown now under Britons’ belts, UK residents are growing weary & worried. Will the lockdown remain in place forever?

Will the UK remain in lockdown forever? Everything you need to know

With three weeks of lockdown now under Britons’ belts, UK residents are growing weary & worried that beating the new coronavirus variants will keep them inside for far longer than they anticipated.

As the UK government begins warning its subjects of further lockdown extensions, Brits are wondering how much longer lockdown will be “just temporary”. Let’s take a look at the latest details.

The variant

Towards the end of 2020, the year-old coronavirus mutated into a more contagious form, known as B.1.1.7. Hopes of speedily taming the rapidly moving variant are being steadily dashed, just as health experts reported COVID numbers dropping at a glacial pace. Upticks in cases involving younger people were especially troubling, as it may be pointing to another school shutdown.

According to Public Health England, the variant first emerged around September. Scientists became concerned around late November after a rise in cases in the southeast city of Kent. Their concerns stemmed from a steady decline in numbers across the country upon lockdown, but no such drop in Kent.

The country’s leading epidemiologists then warned the public about the variant potentially outrunning current lockdown restrictions, leading to the tighter crackdown Brits are experiencing now. Since January 5th, people have been forbidden from leaving their homes and from congregating with the exception of grocery shopping and essential work.

Mixed results

For all of the new, tighter restrictions, the evidence for flattening the curve is uneven. Case numbers are declining, falling from over 60,000 on January 1st to around 40,000 cases in the last few days. However, many health experts have stated the decision to tighten lockdown came too late.

University of Leicester clinical virologist Dr. Julian Tang’s comments to the UK’s Science Media Centre agree. “It’s amazing that we seem to be making the same mistakes over and over again — with increasing loss of life”, he noted. The impact of the new restrictions are expected to be felt even later for overwhelmed hospitals across the country. Hospitalizations remain at a record high with over 38,000 people admitted.

Michael Head is a global health senior research fellow at the University of Southampton. “We know there is a lag between reporting of new cases and any subsequent deaths,” he wrote in an email interview with CNN. “For example, a few percent of newly-diagnosed today may end up in hospital in around 7-14 days from now, and then approximately 1% of today’s cases will die in around 21-28 days’ time”, he continued.

REACT-1, a recent study from researchers at Imperial College London, painted a contradictory picture with case numbers staying high without much movement at all. Tracking infections in the study differed from official case numbers, which were based on the number of people getting tested, which did not always include asymptomatic people. REACT-1’s selections included 140,000 people selected at random.

Steven Riley is a professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College and the author of the study. He said it’s not entirely fair to suggest the lockdown isn’t working at all, although the study didn’t show a sizable drop in infections, noting: “our main point is that we did not detect a sharp decline which is what we really need to see.”

The road ahead

According to Michael Head, the number of deaths is likely to remain high until March. The number of people being discharged from the hospital remains lower than those being admitted, a tell-tale sign of a pandemic still in full swing. For now, restrictions appear set to remain in place throughout February.

As much of a cautionary example the UK is setting for the world, America seems to be experiencing similar hurdles. In fact, B.1.1.7 has been tipped by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as potentially becoming the dominant variant in the United States as soon as March.

Still, both the U.S. & British governments agreed it’s still far too early to speculate the timing of reopening. As the new vaccines are put to the test by several new variants racing across the globe, it seems unlikely that the UK will see the end of lockdown anytime soon.

How long is your country extending lockdown? What are you doing to pass the time? Let us know in the comments.

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