Piccadilly in London, the UK, March 28 2020. Picture: OLLIE MILLINGTON/GETTY IMAGES
Piccadilly in London, the UK, March 28 2020. Picture: OLLIE MILLINGTON/GETTY IMAGES

London — The British government admitted on Sunday that the coronavirus lockdown could last a “significant” time as an expert warned it could still be in place until June.

“I can't make an accurate prediction, but everyone I think does have to prepare for a significant period when these measures are still in place,” cabinet minister Michael Gove told the BBC.

Britons have been told to stay inside wherever possible to limit the spread of Covid-19, joining millions of people kept at home worldwide.

The measure was introduced amid warnings that infection rates were spiralling. Figures released on Sunday revealed that so far 1,228 people with coronavirus have died in Britain.

This is an increase of 209 on the day before. Altogether 127,737 people have been tested so far, and 19,522 of them were found to have coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said initially the shutdown would be for three weeks.

Imperial College London professor Neil Ferguson, one of the epidemiologists advising the government, told the Sunday Times the lockdown could last for months.

“We're going to have to keep these measures in place, in my view, for a significant period of time — probably until the end of May, maybe even early June. May is optimistic,” he said.

In a leaflet being sent to more than 30-million British households, the prime minister warned that “things will get worse before they get better”.

“The more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner life can return to normal,” Johnson wrote.

“We will not hesitate to go further if that is what the scientific and medical advice tells us we must do.”

The Conservative leader tested positive for coronavirus as did health minister Matt Hancock, but Downing Street says Johnson is still in charge.

Gove also used his BBC interview to take a swipe at China, where the first cases of Covid-19 emerged.

“Some of the (early) reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of this,” he said.

Meanwhile in the US, President Donald Trump decided late on Saturday not to impose a broad two-week lockdown on New York and its neighbours after a strong pushback from local political leaders and warnings of the panic it could spark.

Trump on Friday signed into law a $2-trillion rescue plan to salvage a US economy crippled by the novel coronavirus, on a day the nation's total count of Covid-19 cases topped 100,000.

“A quarantine will not be necessary,” Trump tweeted, about eight hours after he stunned the New York metropolitan region, the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak, with a proposal to place it under quarantine to prevent residents from leaving.

A lockdown of that type would have been the harshest measure yet taken by the US government to slow the spread of the disease. Trump had indicated earlier that he was responding to worries in other states, particularly Florida, that travellers from the greater New York City area could spread Covid-19 in their communities. He said that “heavily infected” New Yorkers were a threat to Florida, a popular southern holiday destination for people in the northeast.

But after strong warnings from New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey governor Ned Lamont that the move would spark panic and cause further damage to financial markets, Trump reversed course and said there would be travel warnings for the region.

“On the recommendation of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and upon consultation with the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, I have asked the (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to issue a strong Travel Advisory,” he said on Twitter. The CDC then published its advisory, urging residents of the three neighbouring states “to refrain from nonessential domestic travel for 14 days effective immediately.”

New York state has reported in excess of 53,000 cases of the new coronavirus, out of more than 124,000 nationwide.

New York City alone reported a surge of more than 155 deaths on Saturday, taking the city's total to 672, about a third of the 2,185 fatalities across the US, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Neighbouring New Jersey has reported more than 11,100 Covid-19 cases.

Cuomo told CNN earlier that a lockdown on travel in and out of the global financial and trade hub would not be legal or make sense — especially since there are already local controls on movements.

“Why you would want to just create total pandemonium on top of a pandemic, I have no idea,” he said.

Lamont called New York City, New Jersey and southern Connecticut “the global capital of the world” for commerce and finance.