Boris Johnson last night warned that Britain was ‘seeing a second wave coming in’ as he contemplated six months of ‘on-off’ restrictions to tackle the upsurge in coronavirus cases.
He is now looking at six months of ‘on-off’ nationwide restrictions amid concerns in Downing Street that the public is ignoring rules on social gatherings.
The new approach to get the country through winter would see it alternate periods of stricter measures with intervals of relaxation.
Fortnight-long ‘circuit breakers’ would see tough restrictions introduced temporarily across the whole country to suppress the virus, before they would be lifted for a time and then re-introduced if necessary.
Measures could include bans on social contact between households, shutting down hospitality and leisure venues such as bars and restaurants, or restricting their opening hours.
Downing Street was spooked by warnings from the Government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre that the UK is now six weeks behind Spain, which recorded 239 deaths on Thursday.
The new architect of the Government’s response to coronavirus and SAGE adviser Professor Graham Medley has argued for a half-term shutdown of leisure and hospitality, claiming that ‘short, planned periods of reducing R below one can greatly reduce the risk of longer, unplanned emergency lockdowns’.
‘This option has to be balanced with local and more targeted measures which are less economically and socially disruptive, but do not appear, to date, to have prevented exponential increase of infection,’ he told The Times.
‘If we are going to have to have another period of lockdown then presumably it would be better to know in advance when and for how long it will be [to allow] individuals and businesses to prepare.’
Another SAGE adviser called for longer and quicker lockdowns, saying it was ‘the only thing that we really know’ that works. A Whitehall source said there was a fear in official circles of being accused of ‘being sluggish’ if they were slow to act to rising cases, adding: ‘It feels like we’re back where we were in February and March’.
Swathes of England are being forced back into lockdown, with tough new restrictions being announced for the North East last night ahead of rules unveiled across the North West, Midlands and West Yorkshire.
The latest measures, which include a 10pm curfew on pubs and bars, will affect Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, Northumberland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and County Durham from tonight.
In coronavirus developments yesterday:
- Tough new measures to control coronavirus were announced for the North East of England last night, ahead of further rules which were unveiled across parts of the North West, Midlands and West Yorkshire;
- Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said that it is ‘increasingly likely’ that draconian lockdown restrictions will soon be needed to slow the spread of coronavirus in the capital amid fears of transmission;
- Matt Hancock told the Today programme that hospital admissions in the UK are doubling every eight days;
- The Government’s testing fiasco worsened after the Health Secretary doubled down on claims that coronavirus ‘tests are available’ despite people queuing for hours and being turned away by staff
Boris Johnson last night warned that Britain was ‘seeing a second wave coming in’ as he contemplated six months of ‘on-off’ restrictions to tackle the upsurge in coronavirus cases
Student Emily Gittings, 19, has her temperature taken before heading into a mobile coronavirus testing unit for asymptomatic staff and students set up in a car park at the University of Portsmouth
A graphic shows where the latest restrictions are being enforced across Great Britain
The Government is also looking at the possibility of introducing ‘targeted shielding’ that would see people with serious medical conditions given tailored advice.
Unlike previously when more than two million people across England were given blanket instructions to stay at home for several months, individuals would be given more specific recommendations according to how vulnerable they were deemed to be.
Hold Cobra meeting NOW, urge Sir Keir Starmer and Nicola Sturgeon as PM imposes restrictions in England
Nicola Sturgeon and Sir Keir Starmer yesterday demanded the Prime Minister convene an emergency Cobra meeting this weekend to discuss the rise in cases.
The Scottish first minister said she had requested a meeting between Boris Johnson and the devolved administrations.
She also warned of further national restrictions, telling Scots ‘hard but necessary’ decisions may have to be taken in the next few days.
Miss Sturgeon said she hoped to avoid a second national lockdown, adding: ‘Ideally we will be able to have a joined-up approach across the UK.’ She added that she could not remember the last time she spoke to Mr Johnson. Labour leader Sir Keir echoed her plea. He said: ‘This is the time for swift, decisive national action.’
Miss Sturgeon claimed most of the recent discussions between the Government and the three devolved administrations have involved Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove rather than the Prime Minister.
There is concern in No 10 that people are flouting the ‘rule of six’ that came into force in England on Monday.
Mr Johnson said last night said he was considering whether the Government needed to ‘go further’ than the current national restrictions.
He said: ‘We’re looking very carefully at the spread of the pandemic as it evolves over the last few days and there’s no question, as I’ve said for several weeks now, that we could expect (and) are now seeing a second wave coming in.
‘We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe – it has been absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable we were going to see it in this country.’
Spain recorded 239 deaths in a single day this week.
The Prime Minister insisted a second lockdown was the ‘last thing anybody wants’ but said the current measures would need to be kept ‘under review’.
He added: ‘On Monday, we brought in the measures that we did, the ‘rule of six’, to really try and restrict what people are doing and to bring in a new buffer.
‘But the crucial thing is at the same time to observe the basic rules on social distancing – hands, face, space – that is what everybody has got to do if we want to continue to beat this thing.
‘But as we look at this particular curve and what is happening now, clearly we are going to keep everything under review. I don’t want to get into a second national lockdown at all – it is the last thing anybody wants.
‘I don’t want to go into bigger lockdown measures at all, we want to keep schools open. We want to keep the economy open as far as we possibly can, we want to keep businesses going.
‘The only way we can do that is obviously if people follow the guidance.’
Asked about the possibility of a two-week October half-term in order to bring in a short lockdown, Mr Johnson said: ‘We want to keep the schools open, that is going to happen. We want to try and keep all parts of the economy open as far as we possibly can.’
Earlier in the day, Matt Hancock suggested measures would need to be in place into next year.
The Health Secretary said: ‘The strategy is to keep the virus down as much as is possible whilst protecting education and the economy. And doing everything we possibly can for the cavalry that’s on the horizon – the vaccine and mass testing, and the treatments that, frankly, this country has done more than any other around the world to develop.’
Coronavirus cases have been increasing rapidly across NE England. Newcastle has recorded a sharp rise in its weekly infection rate, up from 51.2 cases for every 100,000 people to 64.1 in the seven days to September 13
He also insisted that coronavirus ‘tests are available’ despite people waiting in queues that last for hours, only to be turned away by staff when arriving at the swab centres.
London lockdown IS likely admits Mayor Sadiq Khan after coming out of emergency meeting on lack of testing in the capital as he warns ‘we should not wait for virus to spiral out of control’
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has admitted it is ‘increasingly likely’ that lockdown restrictions will soon be needed to slow the spread of coronavirus in the capital.
Mr Khan said he was of the ‘firm view’ that action should be taken before the virus spirals out of control, and leaders were considering measures already imposed in other parts of the UK.
In a statement, he said he held an emergency meeting with London council leaders, the Government and Public Heath England (PHE) to discuss the next steps.
Mr Khan added: ‘The Prime Minister has said that we are now seeing the start of a second wave of Covid-19 across the UK. Londoners should also know that I am extremely concerned by the latest evidence I’ve seen today from public health experts about the accelerating speed at which Covid-19 is now spreading here in London.
‘It is increasingly likely that, in London, additional measures will soon be required to slow the spread of the virus. We will be considering some of the measures which have already been imposed in other parts of the UK.
‘I am of the firm view that we should not wait, as happened six months ago, for this virus to again spiral out of control before taking action.’
No10 officials have said they are not aware of anything to suggest that tests are not available ‘in some parts of the country’ as there are reports of a nationwide testing fiasco.
When asked about testing availability, a No10 spokesman told reporters: ‘We are ramping up capacity or we are working to ramp up capacity in terms of tests. We are obviously targeting those tests in terms of areas where we are seeing higher rates of infections.
He was asked: ‘Are you saying tests are available in every part of the country, despite the fact that many of our readers and viewers are saying that they are not?
He replied: ‘You have seen the Health Secretary’s words. I am not aware of anything to suggest that tests aren’t available in some parts of the country.’
But desperate Britons have told of their battle to get a coronavirus swab this week, with two parents missing an appointment for their unwell daughter because they were stuck in traffic for three hours.
Parents Thandio and Marcio missed their slot at the newly-opened testing centre in Catford, Lewisham, after being stuck in gridlocked traffic leading up to the facility.
Their 11-year-old daughter had been rushed to hospital in an ambulance that morning, but when she was discharged, A&E medics told her parents to book her in for a swab at a testing centre, the Daily Telegraph reported.
They told the newspaper at the scene: ‘There’s no one here. We had an appointment but we missed it because were stuck in traffic. She’ll need to go into isolation and our other children can’t go to school.’
Meanwhile, a leading scientist warned that Covid testing ‘is dying on its a**e’ as he said he was ‘appalled by what I saw’ at the Government’s testing labs.
Concerns have been raised about the Government’s seven ‘Lighthouse Labs’ and their ability to process results, due to shortages of staff and equipment.
Genomics scientist and inventor Phil Robinson, who was invited into one of the labs to see how they work, said it was poorly managed, running out of staff and had failed to set up automatic processes – despite fears that the UK would inevitably be hit by a second wave.
He told The Times: ‘Every part of the process was poor. The other ludicrous issue they have is they have 20 different types of tube coming into the lab. When you are running a high throughput lab it’s only sensible to have one. Why they haven’t standardised that I have no idea.
‘Testing is dying on its a**e because schools are going back and here we are again. They haven’t used that period of lockdown to implement automation.’
Amid chaos in the laboratories, the Government’s test and trace system was also criticised as being ‘barely functional’, with workers taking up to two weeks to contact friends, relatives and workmates of those who have tested positive for Covid-19.
Baroness Dido Harding, who leads the test and trace system, admitted yesterday that demand for swabs is up to four times Britain’s capacity, but declared the sudden rise as children returned to school and parents went back to the office had not been predicted – despite repeated warnings.
The Government’s testing fiasco has seen hundreds of people who queued for Covid swabs at a south London testing centre turned away after not being sent important QR codes, while other sites across the country have been practically deserted.
The proportion of people getting their Covid-19 test results within 24 hours has plummeted for all kinds of test, performance data showed today
National or local lockdown, shielding, curfew or do nothing? As Covid infections double each week, debate is raging… what IS best for Britain, asks BEN SPENCER
It’s the debate dividing Britain. Covid infections are doubling each week and experts believe the death toll will soon start to climb. Should ministers act quickly to stop a second wave or hold off to prevent more damage to the economy? With no easy options, these are some of the possibilities they are considering.
Simply carry on through to Spring with the current level of restrictions.
Revellers enjoy drinks in Newcastle on the first day after strict coronavirus curfews were introduced
PROS: The lockdown imposed in March successfully curbed infections, but had a devastating impact on businesses, education and the NHS. Boris Johnson is desperate to avoid a repeat. There is a strong argument that the need to act is not nearly as urgent as it was in the spring. We now know the virus has little impact on anyone other than the elderly, doctors are much better at treating it and they now have effective drugs. And although our testing system is not what it should be, capacity is 25 times bigger than it was in March. Death rates are currently tiny – with suicides, flu and pneumonia all taking far more lives than the dreaded coronavirus.
CONS: It is clear Covid is getting out of control in France, Spain and the US. Doing nothing could see Britain going down the same road – with a wave of deaths as rising infections feed through from the young into more at-risk groups.
CHANCE OF THIS HAPPENING: 1/5
Localised restrictions, already imposed across swathes of the UK encompassing 13million people, could be extended when outbreaks flare.
PROS: Targeted, proportionate restrictions in virus hotspots slow the spread and spare the rest of the country. This was successfully carried out in Leicester over the summer, with rates quickly slashed.
CONS: Such specific measures rely on an effective test and trace programme – and at the moment the system is not up to scratch. Critics also point out that rates in many parts of the North West, which have been subject to restrictions for weeks, have actually continued to rise. And with local lockdown widened to the North East and Lancashire, there are now more than 13million people affected. With the lives of so many British citizens curtailed, this is arguably just a national lockdown imposed by stealth. Local action is also divisive – national unity will be badly hit if only half the country is allowed to celebrate a family Christmas.
CHANCE OF THIS HAPPENING: 4/5
Most young people are barely affected by Covid. So a logical solution is to shield the elderly.
Most young people are barely affected by Covid. So a logical solution is to shield the elderly
PROS: This could protect the most at-risk while allowing the rest of the population to keep the economy going. The Government reportedly already has tentative plans to assign each person over the age of 50 a ‘risk score’.
CONS: A crude version was used during the first lockdown, with 2.2million people with cancer, asthma and other conditions asked to stay indoors. That scheme was riddled with problems – many of those asked to shield were in fact not particularly susceptible. Any new scheme would have to be far more targeted. But it would rely heavily on age – by far the biggest risk factor for Covid. This will be resisted by many pensioners who see themselves as perfectly healthy. It is also impossible to effectively shield those who need it most – care home residents, who require contact with carers.
CHANCE OF THIS HAPPENING: 4/5
Curfews on the opening of bars and restaurants have already been used in many areas – and could be rolled out nationwide.
PROS: The increase in infection rates this summer was put down to young people gathering in pubs, homes and at illegal raves. Curfews, trialled in Bolton and other areas, aim to stop this by ordering restaurants and pubs to close at 10pm. This is arguably a proportionate response – asking pubs to close an hour or two early is better than forcing them to shut entirely.
CONS: It is clearly harmful to the hospitality industry and is widely seen as a chilling restriction of personal liberties. Curfews can only do so much. After all, most of the population are not out and about beyond 10pm.
CHANCE OF THIS HAPPENING: 4/5
This is the option being most carefully considered. Ministers hope a short lockdown – lasting as little as two weeks – would stop the pattern of infection and reinfection driving cases up.
PROS: If people do not meet and interact, the virus cannot pass between them, the chain of transmission is broken and infection rates will stop rising. If this is done quickly it could nip the problem in the bud before rates rise to dangerous levels. And if it is imposed over the October half term, it would have a limited impact on children’s education. Scientists hope such a measure would also give some breathing room to allow the testing programme to get back on track. And if infection rates drop far enough, it might even allow Christmas to take place after all.
CONS: Scientists worry that as soon as restrictions are lifted, cases would rise again. This raises the prospect of the country following an ‘on-off’ lockdown pattern until a vaccine becomes available. Two weeks might simply not be long enough – meaning restrictions might drag on and on and turn into a full lockdown.
CHANCE OF THIS HAPPENING: 4/5
A return to spring-style nationwide measures which led to most people having to work from home, with schools, non-essential shops and workplaces shut.
A return to spring-style nationwide measures would see most people having to work from home, with venues such as pubs closed
PROS: If Covid infections get out of control, and if they coincide with a bad winter flu season, the death toll could be monumental. Mr Johnson might be left with little choice but to order another lockdown. There are also ways to soften the blow – primarily keeping schools open. Many scientists now believe closing schools was unnecessary last time round. Children are not in danger from the virus yet untold harm was done to their education and mental health by keeping them at home. It also made it hard for parents to work.
CONS: This is the ‘nuclear’ option the Prime Minister does not want to take, an extreme that even the gloomiest of scientists do not currently advocate. With ‘crisis fatigue’ setting in, he also might find it much harder to persuade people to follow the rules a second time round. And even a pared-back version of national restrictions would risk doing more harm than good. The economy is already holed below the water line – a return to lockdown could sink it completely.
CHANCE OF THIS HAPPENING: 2/5