These are the chances of a circuit breaker in England - as Scotland and Wales implement short-term restrictions

Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 8:20 am
Updated Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 8:28 am

A two-week national circuit breaker lockdown will not be imposed in England over the October half-term, according to cabinet minister Michael Gove.

However, the measure could still be introduced later to try and control the spread of COVID-19.

The rest of the United Kingdom is currently in some form of circuit-breaker lockdown, with Wales the latest to announce a period of heightened restrictions.

Here’s what you should know.

What did Jonathan Van-Tam say?

Speaking from Downing Street, deputy chief medical officer professor Jonathan Van-Tam said that it would be wrong to impose a national lockdown, because levels of infection are different around the country.

He said: “Pretty much everywhere in England is now heating up to some extent.

“We are trying to walk a very fine line in between getting the virus under control in areas where it is out of control while incurring the minimum amount of economic damage in doing so.

“It is clear that in the areas where it is out of control, hard measures are needed.

“But do I think right now it is appropriate to insist on those similar hard measures in, for example, the South West of England or Kent, where levels of the disease are very, very much lower than in the north of England?

“To impose a national firebreak, no I don’t think that’s right and I don’t think that’s right with the epidemiological picture we are seeing

Professor Van-Tam also said that the current approach is appropriate but a national lockdown imposed several weeks ago when recommended by SAGE would have been more effective.

What did Michael Gove say?

Mr Gove told Sky News that it would be wrong to “impose on every part of the country the same level of restriction when we know that the disease is spreading more intensively and quicker in some parts of the country”.

However, the cabinet secretary didn’t rule out a circuit-breaker lockdown in future, saying it is not needed “at the moment”.

He said: “ We will always look at how the disease spreads and we will take whatever steps are necessary to maintain public health”.

Who is calling for a circuit breaker lockdown?

There have been reports that the government’s scientific advisors were calling for a circuit-breaker, or potentially even a number of circuit-breakers to coincide with the remaining school holidays left in this academic year.

Documents released by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) show that the group originally called for a circuit breaker lockdown alongside a number of measures in September.

Speaking to Sky News, SAGE member professor Jeremy Farrar said the best time to introduce the measure “would have been around 20th September as SAGE advised”.

He said: “The second best time to do this is now and the worst time to do this is at the end of November when things would have really got considerably worse.

“So it’s never too late, it’s better to do it now than in a month’s time.”

The government has been under increasing pressure from opposition parties as well as scientific advisers.

Last week Labour leader Keir Starmer called for a circuit breaker lockdown for two or three weeks, as did shadow education secretary Kate Green, saying the measure would “reverse the spread” of the virus.

Labour have argued that a circuit-breaker should be introduced in order to give the government time to resolve issues and improve the test and trace program as well as other measures for reducing the spread of the virus.

What would a circuit breaker lockdown involve?

A so-called circuit-breaker lockdown would involve a blanket level of restrictions being imposed across the country for a set period of several weeks.

The level of restrictions would likely be similar to the full lockdown imposed in March, with schools closed as well as retail and hospitality, though the exact details aren’t clear.

The idea is that a short period of harsh restrictions would interrupt the spread of the virus and enable the government to focus on longer-term planning.

What about the rest of the UK?

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a circuit breaker which came into effect on 10 October, forcing pubs and restaurants in the country’s central belt to close and adding further restrictions for the whole country for just over two weeks.

A similar policy has been introduced in Northern Ireland, where pubs and restaurants will be shut for four weeks from 16 October.

It has also been announced that Wales will go into a “firebreak” lockdown from Friday 23 October, until Monday 9 November, with people told to stay at home and pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops forced to close.

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, The Yorkshire Post.