The Prime Minister is facing calls to go further than his three-tier alert system by introducing a fortnight of nationwide curbs to bring the coronavirus resurgence under control. Downing Street is understood to be keeping the idea on the table after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said a two to three-week national lockdown over the October half term was needed to prevent a “sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter”.
A paper by members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) 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 modelling suggested 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, the death toll could be cut to 15,600.
The paper by Professor Graham Medley and other members of the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling – known as SPI-M – notes there are “no good epidemiological reasons to delay the break”.
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.
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Under the measures – which came into force today – all areas of England will be put into different categories labelled as a medium, high or very high risk.
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.
Sir Keir said: “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.”
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.
He said: “If we don’t, we could sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter. That choice is now for the Prime Minister to make. I urge him to do so.”
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”.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said he was considering a “short, sharp intervention” – but that there remained “some very practical things that we’ve all got to think about”.
Northern Ireland’s Stormont executive is understood to be considering a four-week lockdown that is not as widespread as that imposed in March.
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.