Govt Moves to Deny Planning ‘Firebreak’ October Lockdown if Covid Hospitalisations Rise

A man wearing a protective face mask walks his dog past a billboard showing Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Manchester, north-west England on November 6, 2020, as the second lockdown comes into force in England. - A united effort to tackle spiking coronavirus infection rates has been called for …
OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

The British government has denied reports that it is drawing up plans for an October “firebreak” coronavirus lockdown if hospitalisations continue to rise.

A senior government scientist and member of the influential Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) had told the i newspaper that the firebreak lockdown could coincide with schools’ half-term, which would be extended for two weeks from late October to early November, it what would be England’s fourth lockdown.

The source claimed that the measures were being drawn because the UK is about to enter an “extended peak” of infections, which could result in a rise of hospitalisations, overwhelming the NHS.

“This is essentially the precautionary break that Sage suggested last year,” the source told the newspaper on Monday. “It would be sensible to have contingency plans, and if a lockdown is required, to time it so that it has minimal economic and societal impact.”

The i also reports claims that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning to reintroduce mask-wearing on public transport and enclosed public spaces, as well as social distancing, this month. The last set of lockdown restrictions had only been lifted on July 19th.

Dependent on hospitalisation numbers, the prime minister may also be considering other restrictions, including on travel and limits to numbers able to gather in private homes or indoor public spaces — making Britain look very much like it did before the rollout of the vaccination programme.

Responding to the reports, Brexit leader Nigel Farage remarked: “What was the point of the vaccine if we could be locked down all over again?”

At present, these are reportedly at the contingency planning stage, but another government source said the government would have to “seriously consider” the restrictions, not only because of rising Covid cases needing hospitalisation, but because of the impact of other respiratory illnesses, like seasonal influenza.

“On top of that we have an expected resurgence in hospitalisations for other respiratory illnesses like flu. If the current high levels of admissions for Covid continue the NHS will not be able to cope, so a firebreak lockdown is by no means out of the question,” the second source had said.

A government spokesman told the newspaper that it was not planning a lockdown, but confirmed that the Johnson administration “retains contingency plans as part of responsible planning for a range of scenarios, but such measures would only be re-introduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS”.

Downing Street also denied the reports, with a spokesman for Number 10 telling reporters on Tuesday that it is “not true the government is planning a lockdown or firebreak around the October half term”.

The Department for Education (DofE) denied the claims, tweeting this morning: “It is not true that the Government is planning a lockdown or firebreak around the October half term.”

The government message, however, appears to have not trickled down to all of his MPs and did not prevent members of the prime minister’s party from speaking out against a potential firebreak lockdown this morning.

Leading lockdown sceptic and chairman of the Covid Recovery Group Mark Harper told Julia Hartley-Brewer on talkRADIO: “I don’t see any case for that at all. It’s absolutely the case, I think, when schools go back we’ll an increase in cases. But cases aren’t the thing we should be worried about. It’s, ‘how many people go to hospital and how many people are dying from Covid?’

“And we see that the vaccines are incredibly effective. We’re not seeing significant numbers of people going to hospital, and we’re not seeing significant numbers of people dying from Covid. Covid’s a relatively small contributor to deaths, now. Much lower than any other causes of death. So I just don’t think that’s necessary at all.”

While Downing Street and the DofE had categorically denied the plans were in place, ministers had before made what appeared to be cast-iron promises that were reversed.

On  January 12th, Zahawi promised that there would be no domestic vaccine passport rollout, but on Sunday doubled down on the prime minister’s pledge that proof of double vaccination will be needed for entry to nightclubs and other large venues by the end of this month.

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