Politics

Coronavirus: Circuit breaker lockdown still not too late, says SAGE scientist

Now is the “second best time” for a national circuit breaker lockdown but September would have been better, a scientific adviser to the government has told Sky News.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), urged ministers to introduce nationalised COVID-19 restrictions in order to “reset” increasing infection rates.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under pressure from Labour to abandon his three-tier approach to localised measures in favour of a two or three week circuit breaker lockdown.

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SAGE has been making recommendations to ministers throughout the COVID-19 crisis

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for the action after it emerged SAGE last month put a short period of lockdown at the top of a list of measures to be considered for “immediate introduction”.

Sir Jeremy said it was “never too late” for such action, although a month ago would have been the “best time” for another national lockdown.

“In my view the best time to do this would have been around 20 September as SAGE advised, that wasn’t decided upon then,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show.

“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. Yes, I believe it would have been better to do it three or four weeks ago.”

SAGE has been making recommendations to ministers throughout the COVID-19 crisis and Sir Jeremy suggested both public health and economic considerations were not “separate” issues.

He said a circuit breaker was “the best way of reducing transmission and getting the country back to where we were, perhaps at the beginning of September”.

Sir Jeremy, director of the Wellcome Trust medical research foundation, added: “We need to reduce transmission now and we need to get ourselves back, reset it at the beginning of September, as a country, not in piecemeal, not in fragments across the country, but as a whole country.

“Because transmission is going up across the whole country – it’s worse in some parts, but there is no part of Britain now where R is not above one.”

However, asked if the government would be introducing a circuit breaker lockdown, senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove told Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “No.”

Pressed on whether he was ruling out the government ever imposing such action, Mr Gove replied: “We have always looked at how the disease spreads and we’ll take whatever steps are necessary to maintain public health.”

He added: “The spread and the nature of the disease does not merit that approach at the moment and it would seem to me to be wrong to impose restrictions on the economic and personal life of individuals in parts of the country where the disease is not spreading so intensively.”

Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said a two or three week circuit breaker would allow the country time to reverse the spread of infections, improve testing and contact-tracing, and give the NHS “breathing space”.

However, she admitted she could not guarantee a new national lockdown would only last two or three weeks.

“Nobody can guarantee what is going to happen in what are the most uncertain and unpredictable circumstances,” she told Sophy Ridge.

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