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A Senior Minister Has Rejected Pressure To Use A “Circuit Breaker” Lockdown After Scientists Said It Could Save Thousands Of Lives

Cabinet minister Therese Coffey said the government was not moving towards a two-week "circuit breaker" lockdown (PA)

4 min read

Cabinet minister Theresa Coffey has pushed back against using a so-called “circuit breaker” two-week lockdown after government scientists said it could save thousands of lives by the end of the year.

Pressure is building on Boris Johnson to go further than the new three-tier system outlined earlier this week as the country grapples with spiralling rates of coronavirus infection.

The Prime Minister has been accused of ignoring the advice of his own advisors after it was revealed the Sage committee recommended a short national lockdown several weeks ago to try and flatten the number of cases.

And last night Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer broke the months-long political consensus and called for a “circuit breaker” saying: "If we don't, we could sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter.”

He told reporters at a press conference: "There's no longer time to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. The government's plan simply isn't working. Another course is needed.”

Sir Keir’s comments came ahead of the publication of a paper today by two leading government scientific advisers which said a fortnight’s lockdown from October 24 could save at least 7,000 lives.

Graham Medley, who sits on the Sage panel, and Matt Keeling from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling looked at multiple scenarios, suggested that would the figure if schools and shops were closed, but even if they remained open during the “circuit breaker” there would be more than 4,000 fewer deaths.

Mr Keeling told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What we are talking about is a two-week period of intense control of some form.

"We looked at a range of things, basically from a lockdown that was seen in April-May through to the milder restrictions that were in place in June.

"The stricter the restrictions, the greater the impact.

"So we're not advocating any one policy in this paper, we are just looking at a range of things.

"We were thinking to coincide with half-term to minimise any impact on education and then it is a political decision balancing economics against health."

Several Labour city mayors have also argued for the move, including Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, and a snap poll last night by YouGov found more than half - 54% - of people surveyed felt the PM should have introduced the measures back in September when Sage recommended it.

Mr Johnson is expected to make a decision next week, but he will face opposition from his Chancellor Rishi Sunak and other “hawks” in his Cabinet, along with a number of senior backbenchers, who argue another national lockdown is unnecessary and will wreck the fragile economy.

Asked if that was where the government was heading Ms Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, told LBC: "No, I don’t. The reason being, Parliament has only just voted last night for this national approach of the three tiers with much stronger local measures where they are needed.

“And we need to I think take communities with us right across the country, in having some of the national measures.”

She added: “But you know, frankly, the Labour Party - 19 out of 20 areas they were saying the breakdown that lockdowns hadn't made any difference. Now they want to see a national one. 

“I don't think it's the right approach, right now we need to allow this chance for the localised interventions to really have an effect, so that together we can keep live be focused on saving lives and livelihoods.”

But Labour's shadow chancellor to the Duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves, said it was a "mistake" not to have followed Sage's recommendation last month.

She told the BBC her party had always tried to be constructive “but we think the Government have got it wrong this time”.

Ms Reeves added: ”The mantra used to be that they were following the science - that no longer seems to be the strategy of the Government and that is a mistake.

"We believe the Government should be following the recommendations of Sage and getting control of the virus and protecting the NHS and using a circuit-break to reset the failed outsourced model of Test and Trace, which just isn't working, which is contributing to the problems we are in now.

"It is absolutely the case that there is no silver bullet in all of this, you need a whole range of measures.

"A circuit-break is one of the tools in the arsenal that can be used to get control of this virus."

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