Will England go into a 'circuit breaker' lockdown?

Pressure is growing on the Government to impose a short-term circuit-breaker lockdown in England in a bid to get rising coronavirus infections under control.  Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on the Government to impose a two- to three-week circuit breaker to prevent a "sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter". He is backed by Government scientific advisers, the NHS and the National Education Union, Britain's biggest teaching union. Some scientists have warned the newly announced three-tier local-alert system does not go far enough, and only universal measures have any chance of curbing the second wave of the virus. Wales will impose a two-week “fire break” lockdown from 6pm on Friday October 23 What will this mean for our daily lives, how long could a circuit-breaker lockdown last, and where is the proof it will work? What is a circuit breaker? An actual circuit-breaker is an automatic switch installed in an electrical circuit that flips and breaks the flow of electricity when there is a power surge or a short-circuit, preventing fire and other damage.   A circuit-breaker lockdown would therefore see Britons sever almost all contact with people outside their own household by shutting non-essential businesses and stopping social interactions.   Restrictions on daily life might include:  Pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues forced to close.  Household mixing banned in areas where it is not already. People would be told to work from home if possible and warned not to take public transport unless necessary. Read more: What would a 'circuit breaker' lockdown look like? How long could it last? A circuit-breaker, if imposed, would probably last a maximum of two to three weeks. The idea is to interrupt the flow of the virus and allow time for a longer-term plan to be put in place, before cases overload the NHS. Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), warned  that prevention is better than cure.  He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's always easier to reduce an outbreak at the earlier stage than to let it run and then try to reduce it at a later stage."  Is a 'circuit breaker' likely to be imposed in England? Government sources have said the Prime Minister could order a two-week closure of pubs, restaurants and some other businesses if measures brought in on October 14 in Covid hotspots do not reverse the spread of the virus. A decision will be taken ahead of the half-term holiday for state schools which begins on October 26, and would mark the start of any temporary lockdown. The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) – which provides advice to the Department of Health and Social Care – recommends a short, sharp lockdown is imposed on England from October 24. The date coincides with school half-term, and would minimise disruption to education. Other Government advisers have said a two-week circuit-breaker in December could save thousands of lives in the short term and allow the UK breathing space to control the pandemic. Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of Sage, said it might be too late to implement a two-week circuit-breaker in the October school half-term but December could be an option. Prof Medly said any circuit-breaker should ideally be timed with school holidays to minimise disruption to education. What is the evidence? SPI-M modelling suggests coronavirus deaths for the rest of the year could be reduced from 19,900 to 12,100 if a circuit-breaker is imposed, with hospital admissions cut from 132,400 to 66,500. If schools and shops remain open, the death toll could be cut to 15,600, it found.  However scientists from Oxford University have disagreed with this prediction, arguing there is no good evidence for a circuit-breaker lockdown and that more research is needed before such a measure is taken.  Read more: Which other nations have done circuit breakers and do they work? Who is in favour of a circuit-breaker lockdown?   It emerged on October 12 that members of Sage had reportedly been pushing for such a lockdown for three weeks, but the Government overruled the idea.  Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has come out in support of a circuit-breaker, saying it would prevent a "sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter".  His intervention provoked a bitter backlash from the Government, with a "senior source" branding him a "shameless opportunist". However, the public seem to be of the same mind as the Labour leader – 54 per cent of people surveyed by YouGov on October 13 said they felt the Government should have introduced a national lockdown in September, while just 28 per cent of the 4,222 adults polled disagreed.   Meanwhile the Tory leader of Bolton Council said he was "absolutely disgusted" that Sir Keir "misrepresented" him in the Commons by claiming he supported a circuit-breaker 

Will England go into a 'circuit breaker' lockdown?

Pressure is growing on the Government to impose a short-term circuit-breaker lockdown in England in a bid to get rising coronavirus infections under control. 

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on the Government to impose a two- to three-week circuit breaker to prevent a "sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter". He is backed by Government scientific advisers, the NHS and the National Education Union, Britain's biggest teaching union.

Some scientists have warned the newly announced three-tier local-alert system does not go far enough, and only universal measures have any chance of curbing the second wave of the virus.

Wales will impose a two-week “fire break” lockdown from 6pm on Friday October 23

What will this mean for our daily lives, how long could a circuit-breaker lockdown last, and where is the proof it will work?

What is a circuit breaker?

An actual circuit-breaker is an automatic switch installed in an electrical circuit that flips and breaks the flow of electricity when there is a power surge or a short-circuit, preventing fire and other damage.  

A circuit-breaker lockdown would therefore see Britons sever almost all contact with people outside their own household by shutting non-essential businesses and stopping social interactions.  

Restrictions on daily life might include: 

  • Pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues forced to close. 

  • Household mixing banned in areas where it is not already.

  • People would be told to work from home if possible and warned not to take public transport unless necessary.

Read more: What would a 'circuit breaker' lockdown look like?

How long could it last?

A circuit-breaker, if imposed, would probably last a maximum of two to three weeks.

The idea is to interrupt the flow of the virus and allow time for a longer-term plan to be put in place, before cases overload the NHS.

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), warned  that prevention is better than cure. 

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's always easier to reduce an outbreak at the earlier stage than to let it run and then try to reduce it at a later stage." 

Is a 'circuit breaker' likely to be imposed in England?

Government sources have said the Prime Minister could order a two-week closure of pubs, restaurants and some other businesses if measures brought in on October 14 in Covid hotspots do not reverse the spread of the virus.

A decision will be taken ahead of the half-term holiday for state schools which begins on October 26, and would mark the start of any temporary lockdown.

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) – which provides advice to the Department of Health and Social Care – recommends a short, sharp lockdown is imposed on England from October 24.

The date coincides with school half-term, and would minimise disruption to education.

Other Government advisers have said a two-week circuit-breaker in December could save thousands of lives in the short term and allow the UK breathing space to control the pandemic.

Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of Sage, said it might be too late to implement a two-week circuit-breaker in the October school half-term but December could be an option.

Prof Medly said any circuit-breaker should ideally be timed with school holidays to minimise disruption to education.

What is the evidence?

SPI-M modelling suggests coronavirus deaths for the rest of the year could be reduced from 19,900 to 12,100 if a circuit-breaker is imposed, with hospital admissions cut from 132,400 to 66,500.

If schools and shops remain open, the death toll could be cut to 15,600, it found. 

However scientists from Oxford University have disagreed with this prediction, arguing there is no good evidence for a circuit-breaker lockdown and that more research is needed before such a measure is taken. 

Read more: Which other nations have done circuit breakers and do they work?

Who is in favour of a circuit-breaker lockdown?  

It emerged on October 12 that members of Sage had reportedly been pushing for such a lockdown for three weeks, but the Government overruled the idea. 

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has come out in support of a circuit-breaker, saying it would prevent a "sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter". 

His intervention provoked a bitter backlash from the Government, with a "senior source" branding him a "shameless opportunist".

However, the public seem to be of the same mind as the Labour leader – 54 per cent of people surveyed by YouGov on October 13 said they felt the Government should have introduced a national lockdown in September, while just 28 per cent of the 4,222 adults polled disagreed.  

Meanwhile the Tory leader of Bolton Council said he was "absolutely disgusted" that Sir Keir "misrepresented" him in the Commons by claiming he supported a circuit-breaker to control coronavirus.

David Greenhalgh said it was "absolutely untrue" that he backed the proposal for a short nationwide lockdown – which Labour is calling for – and demanded an apology from the opposition leader.

Sir Keir made the comments during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons on October 14. 

He said: "(Boris Johnson) probably hasn't noticed that this morning, the council leaders in Greater Manchester that he's just quoted, including the mayor and including the Conservative leader of Bolton Council, have said in a press statement that they support a circuit-break above Tier 3 restrictions. Keep up, Prime Minister."

Has it worked anywhere else?

The term "circuit breaker" came to prominence in April to describe the steps taken by the Singaporean Government.

While the virus had been detected in the country in January, it took until spring for the state to implement a widespread lockdown measure, including restrictions on movement and gatherings, as well as the closure of schools and non-essential businesses.

The so-called circuit breaker was only supposed to last about a month, but ultimately it lasted for almost three.

Although the measures were in place for longer than anticipated, Singapore's response is hailed worldwide as a successful model.

On October 13, the country registered four new cases, all of which were imported. The term circuit breaker has come to mean different things in different countries.

As with Singapore, many countries have introduced what was intended to be a short, sharp lockdown only to extend it.

Not all circuit breakers involve widespread lockdowns.

Who has gone for the circuit-break option in the UK?

A two-week “fire break” lockdown designed to contain the latest spike in coronavirus cases will be introduced across Wales from 6pm on Friday October 23, First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed. 

After discussions with the Welsh cabinet Mr Drakeford said a “short, sharp, shock to turn back to clock, slow down the virus, and give us more time” was agreed.  

The break will include the half-term holiday and last until Monday November 9.

Community centres, libraries and recycling centres will close and places of worship will no longer be able to hold regular services, except for funerals and weddings.

Read more: Wales local lockdown rules as 'sharp, deep, two-week fire break' is announced

Pubs in central Scotland were ordered to close across several districts for 16 days. The new rules are in place until October 26.

In Northern Ireland, a four-week circuit breaker is in place in an attempt to stall the rise in coronavirus infections.

Pubs and restaurants will have to shut unless they offer a takeaway service, but places of worship, shops and gyms can stay open.