Nationwide ‘circuit breaker’ should be considered, says Sage scientist

A fairly empty street in London's Soho
A fairly empty street in London's Soho - (Copyright PA Wire)
10:10am, Wed 07 Oct 2020
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Tighter restrictions across the country for a short period should be considered to control the spread of coronavirus, a scientist advising the Government has said, amid growing criticism of local lockdown measures.

Professor Calum Semple, who specialises in disease outbreaks, recommended a “circuit breaker” be considered on a national basis in a bid to slow the virus, rather than trying to reduce it at a later stage.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof Semple – a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) – told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “perhaps a circuit breaker a couple of weeks ago would have been a really good idea”.

He added: “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.

“So, yes, circuit breakers are certainly something we should be thinking about on a national basis.”

According to the Government’s coronavirus dashboard, there were 2,783 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals in England and 349 patients on ventilators as of Tuesday.

The number of those admitted to English hospitals on Sunday – the most recent day for which the figures are available – was 478, almost double the figure seven days previously.

The figures for hospital admissions and patients on ventilators in England are the highest since June.

Case numbers have risen sharply in recent weeks, with 14,542 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Tuesday. A fortnight ago, on September 22, there were 4,926 cases recorded.

The rise has led to warnings from leaders of northern cities that the local lockdown restrictions are “not working”, confusing and even “counter-productive”, as they called for new powers to tackle the resurgence.

The leaders of Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle City Councils – Judith Blake, Sir Richard Leese and Nick Forbes – joined Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson in writing to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to say they are “extremely concerned” about the rise in cases.

“The existing restrictions are not working, confusing for the public and some, like the 10pm rule, are counter-productive,” the Labour politicians wrote.

They called for additional powers to punish those who break rules, for new restrictions to be developed by police, council and public health experts, and for a locally-controlled Test and Trace system.

“We want to be clear, however, that we do not support further economic lockdowns,” the leaders added.

Mr Anderson told ITV’s Good Morning Britain there is a “lack of consistency, a lack of clarity, but most of all a lack of communication and collaboration”, and described the 10pm curfew as having “the wrong effect”.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the coronavirus restrictions in place across England are “right” but that the Government will keep them under review as case numbers rise.

She told BBC Breakfast: “We are working very carefully right across the country to make sure we’ve got the right measures in place to restrict the spread of the virus, and of course we are keeping that constantly under review.

“What’s really important, though, is that we don’t want to go back to a second lockdown where we end up having to close down the economy and the potential damage that has on people’s livelihoods.

“This is a moving situation; as you’ve mentioned, we have seen a rise in some of those areas, so of course our advisers will be looking at that and telling us what is the appropriate step to take next.”

Meanwhile, concerns were raised over the supply of vital materials used for Covid-19 testing following a supply chain problem with Roche.

The pharmaceutical giant said it had experienced a “very significant drop” in its processing capacity due to a problem with its Sussex distribution centre.

It has been reported that the shortage includes vital reagents, screening kits and swabs.

Ms Truss said people who need coronavirus tests should continue to seek them despite the issue, and that Roche is working to resolve the issue “as soon as possible”.

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