Social lockdown threat as coronavirus 'circuit breaker' could see pubs shut and seeing friends banned

Sophia Sleigh, JOE MURPHY, NIcholas Cecil
·3-min read

Heath Secretary Matt Hancock put the country on notice for a national social lockdown today, saying: “I fear more people will die.”

Mr Hancock indicated that a two-week “circuit-breaker” shutdown is among options that will be considered if the surge in Covid-19 cases becomes “more out of control”.

“We will do what it takes to keep people safe,” he said. Mr Hancock appealed to the public to obey the rule of six and follow “hands, face, space” guidance strictly.

The measures could see a temporary ban on friends and separate households socialising. Pubs and restaurants could be either closed or subject to shorter hours.

Ministers hope swift action will allow schools and most workplaces to stay open. However, nothing was ruled out.

In key developments:

  • Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, are reported to have warned during a summit with the Prime Minister on Wednesday night that data point to rising cases and more fatalities over the coming weeks.

  • Leading scientists warned the Government not to repeat the mistake of the March lockdown in being too slow. Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London and a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), tweeted: “We need action now. Delaying for two weeks earlier in year generally agreed to be a terrible mistake. Are we going to repeat it? Thousands of lives at stake.”

  • Covid cases soared in France and Spain, where hospitalisations are also rising, while the number of daily positive tests in Germany hit 1,916 today. Belgium appeared to have stemmed a surge in cases after imposing tough restrictions.

  • Penny Mordaunt, a government minister, issued a video apology on Twitter saying “sorry” for the “unacceptable” failings in test and trace.

  • London is believed to be about two weeks away from curbs on socialising and nights out after a surge of cases in the capital over the past week , expected to be confirmed in figures today.

  • There was better news as Roche’s Actemra/RoActemra drugs were said to cut the likelihood of patients with Covid-19-related pneumonia needing mechanical ventilation, according to the pharmaceutical giant. It said hospital patients taking the drug were 44 per cent less likely to need ventilators or die.

Mr Hancock revealed that intense research has shown beyond doubt that most infections happen between friends and family when they are socialising. Few people ever catch the disease from strangers.

A sign of precautionary health and safety measures is seen on Northumberland Street in Newcastle (REUTERS)
A sign of precautionary health and safety measures is seen on Northumberland Street in Newcastle (REUTERS)

“As Health Secretary, I’m saying to the nation we’ve all got to follow the rules, it is deadly serious,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The results of not doing will be that this goes more out of control and we have to take more stringent measures which have a bigger economic impact. And also that we have more people catching the virus, more people going in hospital, and that, I fear, more people will die.”

Mr Hancock said a national lockdown was the “last line of defence” if curfews and curbs on the hospitality industry failed to slow numbers.

Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser who heads the Independent Sage group, said the Government could not afford to waste time.

He said: “The Government’s failure to act quickly in March led to catastrophic consequences for the whole country, once again we find ourselves at a critical moment as the pandemic grows at an alarming rate. We urgently need a clear and cohesive strategy from the Government if we want some level of normality by Christmas.”

Ministers are waiting for data on the impact of the rule of six in the hope that they can avoid the most severe measures and keep schools open. But Professor Tim Spector, whose King’s College team has developed a tracking app, said there might now already be more than 7,500 new Covid-19 cases a day across the UK.

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