Pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson to impose even stricter lockdown restrictions, after SAGE scientists advised that a so-called ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown could save thousands of lives by the end of the year.
The Prime Minister is facing calls to introduce a fortnight of nationwide restrictions to help bring Covid-19 infection rates under control, even though a new three-tier Covid alert system has been put in place across England.
But what is a circuit breaker lockdown and how would it work? Here’s what you need to know.
What is a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown?
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A circuit breaker lockdown involves a two week long national lockdown, which would see certain businesses forced to close or be regulated, including pubs, restaurants, bars and leisure facilities.
Household mixing indoors would be banned to help limit the risk of transmission, while travel would be limited to essential purposes only.
However, schools and essential workplaces would remain open, after the PM previously stated that keeping children in school is a “national priority.”
When could the lockdown be introduced?
Despite the new three tier Covid alert system taking effect across England from 14 October, Downing Street is understood to be keeping the idea of a national circuit breaker lockdown on the table.
Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has said that a two to three week national lockdown timed over the October school holidays is needed to prevent a “sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter.”
He said that schools must remain open, but that all pubs, bars and restaurants should be closed during the circuit breaker, while firms are compensated so “no business loses out” in order to “break the cycle” of infection.
“There’s no longer time to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. The government’s plan simply isn’t working. Another course is needed,” Starmer said.
There have been rumours that such a lockdown could be timed over the half term period at the end of this month, so as to cause minimal disruption to education, while other reports suggest circuit breakers may be introduced sporadically over the next six months in response to spikes in infection rates.
The idea is intended to reduce virus transmission without needing to go into a full second national lockdown.
Why is a circuit breaker needed?
A new paper by members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) reportedly calculates that more than 7,000 lives could be saved if schools are closed and people are ordered to stay at home from 24 October for two weeks.
It is suggested that coronavirus deaths for the rest of the year could be reduced from 19,900 to 12,100, with hospital admissions cut from 132,400 to 66,500. If schools and shops remained open, experts predict the death toll could be cut to 15,600.
The paper is authored by Professor Graham Medley and other members of the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (known as SPI-M) and is said to note that there are “no good epidemiological reasons to delay the break.”
The calls for such a lockdown comes after Sir Keir used a televised press conference to warn that Mr Johnson was “no longer following the scientific advice” by proposing “far less stringent restrictions” than suggested by SAGE.
It emerged on 12 October that the Prime Minister dismissed a recommendation for a “circuit-breaker” from SAGE three weeks ago, opting instead for the less drastic three tier local alert levels.
All areas of England are now divided into three categories, labelled as ‘medium’, ‘high’ or ‘very high risk’, based on current infection rates.
A version of this article originally appeared on our sister site, Yorkshire Evening Post.