With lockdown easing in the UK, more shops and businesses are reopening, social restrictions continue to loosen, and lives are very slowly returning to (something more like) "normal". But will there be a second lockdown in the UK, and will there be a second wave later this year? It is impossible to say, but here's everything we know so far.
What are the current infection rates in the UK?
The current daily rate for those testing positive with coronavirus is 816 as of August 10. In total, government figures report that 311,641 people have tested positive for the virus, and 46,574 have lost their lives. At its peak, on May 1, there were 6,201 new confirmed cases of the virus.
The number of daily reported cases has reduced to nearly 10% of its height in May, and the number of deaths has therefore dropped significantly, but there are still variations in figures including increased as well as decreased numbers indicating that the virus is still very much with us.
Which areas are having local lockdowns?
The most well-publicised city to face a second lockdown at present is Leicester. In his announcement on June 29, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock explained that the local lockdown was happening due to alarming new rates of infection in the area. The city’s seven-day infection rate was "three times higher than the next highest city", Hancock explained, adding that in the week leading up to the announcement, the city accounted for 10% of all positive cases in the country. However, the city’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said that this lockdown was “not justified” as only certain areas of Leicester “have a higher transmission” of COVID-19, per BBC News.
Writing in the Telegraph on July 12, Hancock said that the increase in positive cases found through testing now means that officials can be "targeted" in their response.
Leicester was given the go ahead to start to reopen schools and nurseries from July 24. From August 3, lockdown restrictions were lifted for the Borough of Oadby and Wigston. From the same date, the government also said that restaurants, bars, libraries, community centres, and outdoor playgrounds and gyms could begin to reopen.
A Herefordshire farm became the first business in the country to go into lockdown in July, after 73 workers tested positive for COVID-19. Additional measures have also been announced across the north of England. On July 31, the government announced a local lockdown across Greater Manchester that would affect Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, and Wigan. The new restrictions were announced after a surge of cases were diagnosed in the region. This means people can still meet other households in outdoor public places, while practicing social distancing, and wearing face coverings. However, people who don’t live together are banned from meeting in homes or gardens and at indoor venues.
After Greater Manchester was placed under a local lockdown, areas in Lancashire and West Yorkshire were put under the same restrictions. As of August 10 Blackburn, along with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Preston, and Rossendale are all under lockdown. Similarly, Bradford, Calderdale, and Kirklees are under local restrictions.
Which other countries are having second lockdowns?
Many countries and regions around the world are implementing a second round of lockdown measures (or some form of added public health measures and restrictions) in order to curb the spread of the virus.
In the U.S., for example, states including California, Texas and Florida, are seeing restrictions being put back in place after increasing infection rates. As a whole, America has seen a huge surge in cases, with an average of 53,772 cases confirmed each day in the week leading up to August 10. That’s an average increase of 18% from two weeks prior.
Countries including South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Iran, Israel, and Germany have all seen a rise in cases following easing of initial lockdowns. India has recorded the world's highest daily cases and deaths, with more than 50,000 new infections every day for the last two weeks, and has exceeded two million cases in total.
Others countries have enforced local lockdowns to tackle the outbreaks, including Germany, where residents of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia were told they would have to stay home again. Spain appears to have suffered the worst second spike as of August 11; travellers from the UK have been told they will have to quarantine for two weeks if they are returning from Spain, Belgium or Luxembourg, following a surge in infections. Elsewhere, the Australian state of Victoria, home to the city of Melbourne, imposed a second, six-week lockdown, reintroduced on July 8.
Will there be a second wave of coronavirus later this year?
Experts largely agree that a second wave is – given the fact that there is no vaccine available at present – "unavoidable". A second spike emerged in Europe in June, which WHO’s Europe regional director Hans Kluge suggested could be due to infections among young people, per New Scientist.
WHO emergencies head Dr Mike Ryan is among the experts from around the world to have warned of a second wave. On May 26, he said many countries may experience the virus again later this year, particularly if initial restrictions were lifted too rapidly: “When we speak about a second wave, classically what we often mean is there will be a first wave of the disease by itself, and then it recurs months later ... We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now it is going to keep going down and we are getting a number of months to get ready for a second wave. We may get a second peak in this wave.”
Scientists have also warned that the UK could see “about 120,000 new coronavirus deaths” if there’s a second wave. In a report requested by chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance, the “reasonable” worst-case scenario could see “24,500 and 251,00 of virus-related deaths in hospitals alone, peaking in January and February,” per BBC News. Research shown in the report also suggests that COVID-19 may “survive longer in colder conditions and is more likely to spread when people spend more time indoors.”
As such, the NHS in England is set to receive an extra £3 billion of funding to prepare for a possible second wave of coronavirus this coming winter. The funding would be available immediately and would allow the NHS to continue using additional private hospital capacity and maintain the temporary Nightingale hospitals until the end of March, Downing Street said. The funding will also help ease winter pressures on the health service, and this would provide additional capacity for coronavirus patients, as well as allowing the NHS to carry out routine treatments and procedures.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed this funding at a press conference on July 17, with Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland also set to receive additional funds. Johnson also affirmed the new testing capacity target, which will be increased to 500,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of October.
The PM also published an additional chapter to the government's COVID-19 recovery strategy "road map", outlining the steps to being taken to avoid a second peak and important dates for employers and employees in regards to getting back to work safely.
Will there be a second lockdown in the UK?
In terms of the UK specifically, a second country-wide lockdown has not been publicly discussed. In July, Hancock said that reaction to outbreaks would be “more targeted local action and less national lockdown”. But Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick, told the BBC he was "very concerned" about a second wave: "If measures are relaxed significantly, we may end up with a second wave in late August or early September," he said.
Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, agreed, pointing out that as with many viruses, the colder weather could spark a new outbreak. "A second wave is almost inevitable, particularly as we go towards the winter months," he said.
Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Witty added that “it may be that there’s a seasonal element and if so, for most respiratory viruses, they are more likely to be transmitted, there is a higher likelihood of transmission, in the winter."
“COVID-19 is a very long way from being finished and eradication is technically impossible for this disease," he added.
BBC Newsnight political editor Nicholas Watt says that by announcing the extra NHS funding, the PM is looking to reassure the public he is serious about dealing with the second wave, which may give him space to further ease the lockdown. However, keeping infection rates low as Britain emerges from the original lockdown will be critical in controlling the disease and a second lockdown. Worth remembering when everyone is racing to the pub...
Contributions from Rebecca Fearn, Sophie McEvoy, and Orla Pentelow.