Scientific advisers have told the Government that ‘circuit breaker’ lockdowns should now be scheduled to coincide with school holidays, the Telegraph understands.
By diarising short periods of heightened restrictions for the rest of the academic year, the public would be better able to adapt and infection rates would fall, the theory goes.
But if such measures were introduced, the school holidays – Christmas, half term, Easter – would herald a raft of restrictions, until summer 2021 at the earliest.
Under a circuit breaker lockdown, Tier Three restrictions – or yet stricter measures – could be enforced, barring all ‘unessential’ movement such as holidays and days out for the entire population. This could be applied in either a regional or country-wide approach.
The caveat would be, of course, that the measures are temporary. But there would still be travel bans, hospitality closures, and even stricter curbs on socialising than present.
Last month, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) raised the idea of circuit breakers, recommending tight restrictions for a few weeks’ at a time. Enforce one over the October half term holiday, they said, and the infection rate would be stalled.
So far, the Prime Minister has rejected the idea for England – but is reported to be considering it if the new Tier system isn’t successful. A decision is expected to be made towards the end of next week, meaning new measures could come into force when the state school half-term break begins on October 26.
SAGE members argue that short, scheduled lockdowns could avoid the need for wider, infinite shutdowns. In a recent paper, it sought to quantify the advantages: circuit breakers could cut Covid deaths between now and the end of the year from roughly 19,900 to 12,100, it said. But Professor Matt Keeling, SAGE particpant, later added an important caveat: circuit breakers delay, rather than avert, deaths. When restrictions are lifted, infections start spreading again.
Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also appeared to consider the idea of a half-term circuit breaker, as well as appealing to Scots not to book holidays for half term. However, she announced last week that there would be “no countrywide travel restrictions”.
Yet in Northern Ireland, a partial circuit breaker will take effect from Monday, with schools there to close for two weeks, alongside the closure of the hospitality sector for a fortnight. All ‘unnecessary’ travel is advised against. To compensate for the measures, First Minister Arlene Foster has extended the half-term break, which will now last from 19 to 30 October.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday argued the case for stricter measures, saying they would “prevent greater economic damage in the future”.
But with the travel and hospitality industries already on their knees, businesses don't have to diarise their demise: the economic damage is happening right now, in real time.
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