Prime Minister faces pressure to introduce two-week 'circuit breaker' in England

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces pressure to introduce two-week 'circuit breaker' in England

Related tags: lockdown, Circuit breaker, Coronavirus, England

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to bring in a two-week 'circuit breaker' lockdown for England that would see restaurants and pubs across the country forced to close.

According to The Times​, members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) are urging the Government to adopt a two-week 'circuit breaker' over the half term period, which is set to commence on Monday 26 October. 

A full lockdown from Saturday October 24, with stay-at-home orders and school closures, could reportedly reduce deaths for the rest of the year from about 19,900 to 12,100, with hospital admissions reduced from 132,400 to 66,500.

Yesterday (13 October), Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on the Government to 'follow the science' and impose a national 'circuit breaker' lockdown of at least two weeks, adding that businesses like those in the hospitality sector that would be forced to close as a result must be compensated by the Treasury.

It comes as the Government's new Coronavirus alert system, which divides the country into three tiers of escalating severity (‘medium’, ‘high’, and ‘very high’)​, comes into effect.

Under the regulations, pubs and bars in areas deemed 'very high' risk will be ordered to close, while restaurants and any pubs or bars that are able to 'operate as if they were a restaurant' and serve 'substantial' meals can remain open.

Initially, only the Liverpool City Region will face the toughest level of restrictions as a result of the rising number of Coronavirus cases in the area. It is estimated that some 970 pubs will be affected​ as a result.

Johnson has reportedly told Tory MPs it would not be right to impose the restrictions on areas where cases were still low. However, some papers are carrying reports saying that the Prime Minister is considering introducing a short lockdown in England.

The Telegraph​ ​says Johnson will consider a 'circuit breaker' if his current strategy does not work.

A decision will be taken towards the end of next week, ahead of the start of the half-term holiday.

Regional circuit breakers

One option under consideration is for regional 'circuit breakers', which might be preferred by the Prime Minister after he previously likened a second national lockdown to a 'nuclear deterrent'. 

According to the paper, one senior source said the chances of a circuit breaker were 'at least 80%'.

However, Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey has so far ruled out the move, telling LBC this morning: ”Parliament has only just voted last night for this national approach of the three tiers with much stronger local measures where they are needed.

”And we need to take communities with us right across the country in having some of the national measures, but frankly the Labour Party was saying 19 out of 20 areas in these lockdowns haven’t made any difference, now they want to see a national lockdown.

”I don’t think it is the right approach. Right now we need to allow this chance for the localised interventions to really have an effect so that together we can be focused on saving lives and livelihoods.”

The SAGE paper reports that 'the optimal time for a break is always now; there are no good epidemiological reasons to delay the break'.

If daily deaths reach more than 200, a 'circuit breaker' could reduce the toll for the rest of the year from 80,000 to less than 40,000.

“Such breaks are not in themselves long-term solutions, but may allow other methods that work best with low numbers of cases (such as test-trace-and-isolate) to reassert control,” Professors Medley and Keeling write.

“Planned precautionary breaks could be highly effective short-term control measures [leading to] a reduction in infection, hospitalisations and deaths.”

This morning, Northern Ireland became the first country in the UK to introduce 'circuit breaker' restrictions​.

From Friday (16 October), restaurants and pubs across the country must close for four weeks, apart from for deliveries and takeaways.

Fast-food and takeaway premises continuing to operate will also be subject to an 11pm curfew.

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