Why England Might Get A Circuit Breaker Anyway, Despite What Boris Says

Rachel Wearmouth
·2 min read

Boris Johnson branded the idea of national lockdown “extreme” when he updated the public on coronavirus from the now-famous Downing Street lectern.

That included any suggestion of a two-week “circuit breaker” shutdown over half term, despite infection numbers in England “flashing at us like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet”.

But since he slid out of view, Johnson has become increasingly isolated over his decision on a short, sharp clampdown, as MPs, scientists and a majority of the public demand he change course.

On Monday, first minister of Wales Mark Drakeford announced there would be a “fire breaker” lockdown from October 23 to November 2, piling yet more pressure on Johnson to act. It followed similar moves by the governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Could No.10 be on course for yet another policy U-turn? Here’s the latest.

The Science

The government's chief medical officer Chris Whitty, left, and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance arrive in Downing Street, London, Monday Sept. 21, 2020. 
The government's chief medical officer Chris Whitty, left, and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance arrive in Downing Street, London, Monday Sept. 21, 2020.

The most powerful argument for a circuit breaker lockdown is: the scientists advising government have been calling for it since September 21.

SAGE (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), known to you and me as “the science” that No.10 has repeatedly insisted ministers are “guided by”, published its most recent minutes last week.

The document made plain that, as well as an immediate two-week shutdown, SAGE members backed a string of measures, including banning all contact between different households and closing all bars, restaurants and gyms.

Johnson’s reaction was to ignore all demands apart from one, which was to change the official guidance from “go to work, if you can” to “where you can effectively, work from home”.

While the SAGE advice dates back almost a month, Jeremy Farrar, who sits on the committee, said on Sunday it was “never too late” to order the “reset” measure, saying: “It’s better to do it now than in a month’s time.”

Speaking to Sky on Sunday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove rejected the idea, however, telling presenter...

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