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14 October 2020 18:32

Scotland Coronavirus Lockdown

Covid: Circuit breaker preparations under way in Wales

Pressure is growing on the Government to impose a short-term circuit-breaker lockdown in England in a bid to get rising coronavirus infections under control. Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on the Government to impose a two-to-three week long circuit breaker to prevent a "sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter". What will this mean for our daily lives, how long could a circuit-breaker lockdown last, and where is the proof it will work? A circuit-breaker lockdown would therefore see Britons sever almost all contact with people outside their own household by shutting non-essential businesses and stopping social interactions. One option under consideration is for regional circuit breakers, which might be preferred by Prime Minister Boris Johnson after he likened a second national lockdown to a "nuclear deterrent".

One senior Government source said the chances of a circuit breaker were "at least 80 per cent". Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), warned last week that prevention is better than cure. Pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson to impose a short 'circuit-breaker' lockdown as scientists advising the government have calculated the measure could save thousands of lives by the end of the year. With the new three-tier system now in force across England, the PM is facing calls to go further by introducing a set of stricter measures at a national level. Downing Street is understood to be keeping the idea on the table, following the intervention of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who said a two to three-week national lockdown over the October half term could help prevent a 'sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter.' A 'circuit-breaker' lockdown would see most businesses close - including pubs and restaurants - if the new 'traffic light' system fails to stop the spread of the virus, the Telegraph has reported.

A Tory MP told the Express that the October half-term felt like the "obvious time" for a clampdown with Downing Street sources saying a "circuit breaker" has not been taken off the table. A 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 October 24 for two weeks. The Times said the modelling 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. It 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 Monday 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.

The medium level maintains current national restrictions, high-risk areas will see households banned from mixing indoors, and the third tier will see harsher restrictions including the closure of pubs – unless they can operate as a restaurant. Labour leader Sir Keir told reporters on Tuesday: "There's no longer time to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. He said schools must stay 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. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said his party also backed a circuit-breaker, warning that "otherwise the cost to lives and livelihoods as well as to jobs in our communities may be too harsh to bear". And Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford told Times Radio he too was considering a "short, sharp intervention" – but that there remained "some very practical things that we've all got to think about".

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said England's tiered system would "give an idea" of a similar scheme she is developing, which could come into effect when stricter measures are due to be eased on October 25. Mr Drakeford said: "We want to act now in order to prevent the worst from happening, to give us a better chance of getting through the rest of the autumn and the winter, and if a circuit breaker is the right way to do it then that is what we will do. The Welsh Government is "very actively talking about and preparing for" a circuit-breaker lockdown in Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said. Mr Drakeford also called on the UK Government to consider adopting the short-term lockdown in England, saying he does not think it would be sensible for ministers to dismiss the advice of their own Sage committee of experts. Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Mr Drakeford said "detailed planning" is under way to establish what measures would be put in place during a circuit-breaker, how long it would last, how schools would be treated, and how to come out of it.

He said: "We want to act now in order to prevent the worst from happening, to give us a better chance of getting through the rest of the autumn and the winter, and if a circuit-breaker is the right way to do it then that is what we will do. Mr Drakeford said "detailed work" is ongoing to allow Wales to take the same decision as Northern Ireland, where a period of intensified coronavirus restrictions has been announced, if infection figures continue to go "in the wrong direction" this week. "I'm not announcing it today but I do want people to know we are planning very seriously, so if we do need to do it we'll be in a position to do it and in a position to do it quickly," he said. The First Minister said his Government will look at the coronavirus figures in Wales during the rest of this week to decide whether the circuit-breaker is necessary. Mr Drakeford also said comments by UK Government minister Therese Coffey about a circuit-breaker not being the right move "fly in the face of the advice of Sage", and he repeated his call for a four-nation Cobra meeting to discuss the experts' scientific evidence. Mr Drakeford stressed his request for the UK Government to restrict people from areas with high levels of coronavirus from travelling into places with lower numbers of infection is "not a border issue". People in areas of Wales under local lockdown restrictions are not able to travel to other parts of the country without a reasonable excuse, which does not include a holiday. But people living under restrictions in England can currently travel into parts of Wales not under lockdown, with Boris Johnson yet to reply to two letters from Mr Drakeford asking him to restrict them from doing so. "It is a simple, straightforward, practical action that prevents the flow of the virus out of areas where there is a great deal of it into areas where there is very little of it, and I'm baffled why the Prime Minister continues to resist this idea," Mr Drakeford said.