‘Circuit break’: PM says he does not want another lockdown – but that second wave ‘is coming’

Boris Johnson has said he does not want to put the country in another national lockdown but warned the government may need to “intensify things to help bring the rate of infections down”.

He added: “We’re now seeing a second wave coming in… clearly we are going to keep everything under review.”

Calling the second wave “inevitable”, he said: “I don’t want to get to a second national lockdown at all.”

But he also said: “As the disease progresses, of course we’re going to have to take further measures.”

His comments came as new confirmed daily cases of coronavirus hit 4,322 – the highest since 8 May – and another 27 deaths were recorded. The R number, which shows the spread of the virus, is now between 1.1 and 1.4.

With COVID-19 cases now doubling every seven to eight days, the government is looking at introducing nationwide restrictions for a short period to try to “short-circuit” the virus and slow the spread of the disease.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock says

Huge swathes of the North West, West Yorkshire, the Midlands and the North East have been placed under further localised coronavirus restrictions.

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The mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said the capital is “increasingly likely” to be subject to additional restrictions.

But government figures have stressed the plans being drawn up stop short of a full national lockdown, as seen in the spring, when the country was told to “stay at home”.

Proposals being worked up for such a “circuit break” could see essential travel to schools and workplaces continuing, but restaurants and bars would shut – or perhaps run on restricted hours – and different households would be asked not to mix at all.

The restrictions could be put in place for two weeks, but the timing and duration of the measures has yet to be finalised. There has been speculation of such a lockdown taking place around the time of school half term in October.

Mr Johnson’s message to parents and teachers was: “We want to keep the schools open… as far as we possibly can.”

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on the prime minister to hold a COBRA meeting.

“He now needs to take swift and decisive action at a national level to deal with this – he can’t afford to be slow.

“If the prime minister was to take action, the Labour party will support it and do what we can.”

Case trajectories
Image: Case trajectories, with UK, France and Spain

Image: The rate of cases per 100,000 across Spain, France and the UK

Fears are growing that daily coronavirus case numbers could, in a few weeks, hit the figures seen in March and April if the government does not take decisive action now and “hammer down” on the disease.

Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, warned the prime minister at a meeting on Wednesday evening that the disease was now doubling every seven to eight days.

It is understood they warned the UK is now about six weeks behind France and Spain and in danger of seeing a substantial increase in the number of cases by mid-October if the virus is left unchecked.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has told Sky News that a national lockdown was the “last line of defence”.

Downing Street is reluctant to have to return such draconian measures, acutely aware of the damage it would do the economy and to public health in the longer term.

“The PM is in a very difficult situation because it all rests on him,” one senior minister said this week.

“The instinct of the PM is that he has to keep this virus under control, because if there is a spike, it falls on his shoulders. I do feel for him.”

The prime minister also met with Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Alok Sharma on Thursday morning to discuss the economic situation, amid anxiety in government over the looming spike in unemployment when the furlough scheme winds up next month.

The Treasury, along with many of Mr Johnson’s backbenchers and others in his Cabinet, is of the view that the country cannot go back to a full lockdown and must exhaust all other options in order to avoid such a situation.

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Asked about a report in the Financial Times, claiming the government had been advised to impose a new national lockdown, Mr Hancock told Sky News’ Kay Burley: “The last line of defence is full national action and I don’t want to see that but we will do whatever is necessary to keep people safe in a very difficult pandemic.”

He added: “It isn’t something that we ever take off the table but it isn’t something that we want to see either, it is the last line of defence.”

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Pressed on how close the UK might be to a second national lockdown, the health secretary replied: “Sometimes we can’t say exactly what the future holds because we’re in a pandemic.

“But I can give this hope, which is that if everybody follows the rule of six, if everyone follows self-isolation if they have tested positive or if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, and if everybody in the local lockdown areas follows the rules near them, then we can control this virus together.

“But only by the country pulling together.”

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Mr Hancock pointed to the example of Belgium as offering “hope” for the UK, adding: “They had a start of a second spike, quite similar to what we’ve seen over the last few weeks here, and then they took action and then it came down.

“It came down because the country, once again, came together to tackle the virus.”

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