Senior Government advisor says UK needs national lockdown

Senior Government advisor Sir John Bell says UK needs nationwide circuit breaker lockdown to get on top of ‘eye watering’ Covid numbers

  • Sir John Bell, Oxford University professor of medicine, warned there is an ‘eye-watering’ number of cases
  • The senior Government adviser claimed only a national circuit-breaker lockdown would suppress the virus
  • Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, also indicated that he would support a second national shutdown
  • Britain recorded 15,650 cases yesterday and 136 deaths as 28 million people were plunged into lockdown
  • London was moved into a Tier Two lockdown last night, with police battling a protest in Soho last night  

A senior Government adviser today warned that only a second national lockdown would achieve the suppression of coronavirus as he blasted other restrictions as ‘biting around the edges’.

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, advocated a national circuit-breaker as he suggested the Government had lost control of an ‘eye-watering’ number of coronavirus cases.

He claimed only a second shutdown of society and the UK economy would allow the Government to keep the pandemic in check, in an echo of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s call for lockdown.  

The adviser told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I can see very little way of getting on top of this without some kind of a circuit-breaker because the numbers are actually pretty eye-watering in some bits of the country and I think it’s going to be very hard to get on top of this just biting around the edges. 

‘I think there will be every effort to keep schools open. If in the end we have to take kids out for two weeks, calm it all down, and then start ideally embedded in a much more rigorous testing regime then that’s maybe what we may have to do.’ 

Sir John’s plea for a national clampdown, which would see tougher enforcement of social distancing rules, was then followed by Jeremy Hunt’s suggestion that he would support a circuit-breaker. 

The former Health Secretary also called for an end to the public war of words over local restrictions, telling the Today programme: ‘I’ve always thought that it’s better to do things quickly and decisively than to wait until the virus has grown so I have a lot of sympathy with that.

‘But I think more important right now is we stop this public war of words between local leaders and national leaders because in a pandemic the most important thing is a consistent message because you really have to have compliance with the very, very important public health messages about social distancing.

‘And if local leaders and national leaders are saying different things, it’s incredibly damaging.

‘I really do urge Andy Burnham and other local leaders to have these arguments, and I’m sure they’re very fierce arguments and I’m sure there’s some justification for some of their concerns, but have those arguments in private not in public because that’s so damaging to the national fight against the virus.’

It comes as London was plunged into Tier Two lockdown last night, with Boris Johnson thanking Mayor Sadiq Khan for working with the Government to place the capital into the higher alert level.  

The Prime Minister also urged Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to cooperate after the Government accused the influential Labour politician of holding the country to ransom.

Mr Burnham is resisting the Government’s move to place the region into Tier Three and is instead agitating for a nationwide lockdown, leaving negotiations with Ministers deadlocked.  

But Mr Johnson yesterday used a Downing Street press briefing to warn that he is prepared to elevate Greater Manchester unilaterally, with sources suggesting he could impose harsher measures as early as Monday.

Lancashire leaders yesterday struck a deal with Government and joined Liverpool in the most severe Tier 3 bracket, meaning all pubs and restaurants must close unless they can serve food.  

As more than 28 million people in England began living under the top two tiers: 

  • Mr Johnson said the UK is developing the capacity to manufacture millions of fast turnaround tests for coronavirus which could deliver results in just 15 minutes;
  • The National Education Union rowed in behind Sir Keir Starmer’s call for a national circuit-breaker to get infections down and regain control of the coronavirus pandemic; 
  • The Welsh Government will discuss a circuit-breaker lockdown and will announce decisions on Monday;
  • Some 15,650 coronavirus cases were recorded in the UK on Friday, alongside 136 deaths;  
  • A senior scientist predicted Britain could be carrying out a million coronavirus tests a day by Christmas. 

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, advocated a national circuit-breaker as he suggested the Government had lost control of an ‘eye-watering’ number of coronavirus cases 

Britain also recorded 15,650 new cases of coronavirus and 136 deaths as 28 million people were plunged into lockdown

The R rate remains stable for the UK as a whole but it has dropped for the second week in a row in England, falling from a possible range of 1.3 to 1.6 on October 2 to 1.2 to 1.4 today. But SAGE warned today it is ‘confident transmission is not slowing’ and that cases will continue to grow exponentially for as long as R remains above one

It came as scientists from the Medical Research Council biostatistics unit at Cambridge University presented Sage with the bleak forecast and estimated 47,000 people are becoming infected in England every day.

Scientists say up to one million Brits could be tested per day before Christmas as manufacturers get closer to developing coronavirus test that delivers results in just 15 minutes 

Britain could be carrying out a million coronavirus tests per day by Christmas with results in just 15 minutes, a scientist working on the testing scheme has said. 

The source, who was not named, revealed the government is buying new machines capable of processing 150,000 tests per day with the aim of trebling the current capacity of 300,000.

Separately, trials of pregnancy-style tests which could provide results in just 15 minutes will begin in northern hotspots from next week. 

‘It’s going pretty well,’ the scientist told The Times. ‘They have really scaled up their capabilities. By Christmas we’ll be at a million a day, I think.   

‘That seems perfectly possible.’  

Mr Johnson told a No 10 press conference on Friday that the new tests were ‘faster, simpler and cheaper’ and that work was being done to ensure they could be manufactured and distributed in the UK.  

The Government has already set a target of 500,000 tests a day by the end of October and ministers spent more than £500 million in the last two weeks on laboratory-based machines that could more than triple the Government’s capacity of 300,000 tests a day. 

‘We are now testing more people than any other country in Europe but we always want to go further,’ Mr Johnson said on Friday.

While stressing that the ‘substantial proportion’ of cases are asymptomatic, their modelling suggests that hundreds will be dying daily by the end of the month.  The report published this week says: ‘We predict that the number of deaths each day is likely to be between 240 and 690 on October 26.’  

The Cambridge scientists point to Covid-19 hotspots such as the North West and North East, where infections are reckoned to be at 17,600 and 10,000 respectively, followed by London and the Midlands at 5,450 and 5,720.  

London, Essex, York, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield were last night plunged into Tier Two, banning different households from meeting indoors. Lancashire also joined Liverpool in the most severe Tier Three where all pubs are forced to close unless they can serve food.   

Sir Patrick Vallance today said the UK’s coronavirus outbreak is not spiralling as fast as it did in the spring because social distancing and lockdown measures are working to keep cases on a leash.

But the Government’s chief scientific adviser warned that the epidemic is ‘growing everywhere’ and that more action must be taken to bring down the R rate, which is somewhere between 1.3 and 1.5 for the UK meaning cases will continue to surge exponentially. 

An official report from SAGE earlier this afternoon revealed that the R rate in England has actually dropped for two weeks in a row already, falling from an estimated range of 1.2 to 1.6 on October 2 to 1.2 to 1.4 today. 

But the group cautioned there is no proof the outbreak is slowing and said: ‘SAGE is almost certain that the epidemic continues to grow exponentially across the country, and is confident that the transmission is not slowing.’

A raft of statistics published this afternoon show cases are still surging in England by as many as 28,000 new infections per day, according to ONS estimates for the first week of October, and Sir Patrick put the figure at more like 40,000 a day – or more – by more up-to-date estimates.

Last night Britain’s biggest teachers’ union backed Sir Keir Starmer’s calls for a circuit-breaker lockdown to ‘get in control of the test, track and trace system’ and regain control of the pandemic.

The Labour leader said a complete shutdown lasting two to three weeks could be timed to take place over half-term to minimise disruption, but warned that ‘sacrifices’ would have to be made. 

The National Education Union (NEU) said the move, which would see secondary schools and colleges in England closed for two weeks at half-term, was urgently needed ‘to allow the system to work better’. 

The growing calls come as a raft of statistics published this afternoon showed cases are still surging in England by as many as 28,000 new infections per day, according to ONS estimates for the first week of October.   

The NEU is now calling for secondary schools and colleges to be shut for two weeks, rather than one, over the October half-term to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Boris Johnson backed down from imposing Tier 3 Covid rules on Manchester because he ‘feared police won’t enforce them effectively’ without Andy Burnham’s backing 

Boris Johnson backed down from imposing Tier 3 Covid restrictions in Manchester amid fears police would not enforce them without Andy Burnham’s backing.

The Prime Minister had previously said that he wanted ‘maximum local enforcement’ but that could only be achieved with ‘maximum local buy-in’.

But Greater Manchester Police currently answers to the city’s Labour mayor who has adamantly refused to enter into the harshest restrictions.  

Police and crime commissioners, a role currently filled in Manchester by Mr Burnham, have the power to help set strategic priorities for their local constabularies. 

It is thought that negotiations between the Government and Manchester’s leaders will continue over the weekend with no decision likely to be made before Monday. 

It comes after Mr Johnson hailed an agreement with Lancashire to move into the toughest lockdown level where it joins Liverpool as the only areas in the top bracket. 

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: ‘Heads, teachers and school staff understand the educational impact of this, but we also understand that in exponential epidemics early action is essential. Taking action now can avoid more disruption later.’

Yesterday Mr Johnson defended his three tier system but refused to rule out a circuit breaker. He said: ‘Some have argued that we should introduce a national lockdown instead of targeted local action, and I disagree.

‘Closing businesses in Cornwall, where transmission is low, will not cut transmission in Manchester. So while I can’t rule anything out, if at all possible I want to avoid another national lockdown.’

On Friday, figures from the ONS showed that the highest rates of infection in England continue to be among young adults and secondary school pupils.

Mr Courtney continued: ‘This should be no surprise to either the Prime Minister or the Department for Education – scientists have consistency told them that secondary students transmit the virus as much as adults, and we have warned them that because we have amongst the biggest class sizes in Europe we have overcrowded classrooms and corridors without effective social distancing.

‘Our classrooms often have poor ventilation, leading to airborne transmissions, and in many areas we have also have overcrowded school transport where children are mixing across year-group bubbles.

‘These children live in families and are part of communities, so even if they have few or no symptoms themselves they are still part of spreading the virus to others, including to teachers and other school staff.’

He added: ‘Such a circuit-breaker could allow the Government to get in control of the test, track and trace system, and get cases lower to allow the system to work better.’ 

The ONS estimates that around 0.62 per cent of the population of England was infected with coronavirus during the week from October 2 to October 8. 

This is the highest estimate it has produced since data began in late April and a marked surge from 0.41 per cent a week earlier (ending October 1).

‘In recent weeks there has been clear evidence of an increase in the number of people testing positive for Covid-19,’ the report said. It added that the rates were currently highest in older teenagers and young adults. 

‘Smaller increases are also apparent across all of the other age groups, apart from individuals aged 70 and over,’ the ONS said.

‘There is clear evidence of variation in Covid-19 infection rates across the regions of England, with highest rates seen in the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the North East, which have all seen steep increases in recent weeks.’

Test positivity data from Public Health England shows that the proportion of tests taken that have positive results has soared in September and early October, so that 7.1 per cent of all tests taken are now positive – one in every 14  swabs

The random testing programme’s results were this week based on results from 211,851 swab tests. A total of 1,062 tests were positive from 926 people living in 723 households.

Using this data and applying it statistically to the entire population – taking into account where the people who tested positive were living and how old they were, for example – the researchers can estimate the true size of the outbreak in England.

The official Department of Health testing programme does not pick up all infections because a majority of people have no symptoms when they’re infected with Covid-19. 

In the week up to October 8, to match the ONS study’s time period, an average 12,781 people were diagnosed each day in England, suggesting fewer than half of people (46 per cent) who catch the virus actually get tested and have a positive result.

The ONS results are ‘gloomy’ once again, said one scientist, but pointed out there were tentative signs that increases in infections were starting to slow in the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber. 

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