Circuit-breaker lockdown: What is it and what would it look like?

Boris Johnson’s alternative to nationwide lockdown could see temporary closure of public spaces such as pubs and leisure facilities

Liam James
Wednesday 07 October 2020 15:16
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As coronavirus cases continue to soar across the UK and warnings pile up over the impact of a second wave on the NHS, it is likely that the government will implement stricter regulations nationwide.

Professor Neil Ferguson, who helped shape the initial March lockdown, warned on Tuesday that further restrictions may be necessary to stem the spread as cases are likely doubling every fortnight and even as quickly as every seven days in some areas. In order to curb the spike, Downing Street is reportedly considering “circuit-breaker” measures, similar to those already in place across Scotland.

Boris Johnson has been reluctant to implement a full-blown second lockdown due to fears of an economic “disaster”, it is more likely that Downing Street will implement shorter periods of tighter rules and restrictions sporadically and nationwide over the next six months in order to allow “breathing space.”

If implemented, a circuit breaker lockdown could last a fortnight and might see the closing or regulating of pubs, bars, restaurants and leisure facilities with socialising between households banned. It is thought that movements will be limited nationwide to all but essential travel.

Schools and all but essential workplaces could remain open – the PM has said it is a “national priority” to keep children in the classroom. It is thought that the circuit breaker could be timed for the half-term period at the end of October to avoid any further disruption to schools, a government source told the Financial Times. 

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the government's scientific advisory panel who specialises in disease outbreaks, recommended a "circuit breaker" short national lockdown should be considered to slow the virus.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof Semple - a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) - 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."So, yes, circuit breakers are certainly something we should be thinking about on a national basis."

Scotland has already moved to implement new, tighter measures that will attempt to reduce the spread of the virus across the country. 

On Wednesday, first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced pubs, restaurants and cafes in most of Scotland are being barred from selling alcohol indoors for more than two weeks.

Five health board areas - Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire & Arran, Lothian, and Forth Valley - face stricter restrictions, with pubs and licensed cafes to shut to all but takeaway customers for the same period.

In other areas, pubs and restaurants will only be able to open indoor spaces between 6am and 6pm and will be barred from serving alcohol there - though they can sell drinks outside until 10pm.

The measures will be in force until 25 October.

Downing Street is meanwhile planning to unveil a new traffic light system of three alert levels that could be implemented at local or national level if cases are not brought under control.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, told MPs on Monday the government will outline a “more simplified” and “consistent” approach to local measures. 

The prime minister earlier said he wanted to keep local lockdowns as “simple as possible” though he did not confirm whether the three-tier system would be introduced.

The proposed approach of pre-packaged measures has been welcomed for being simpler, which Dr Nilu Ahmed, a behavioural psychologist at Bristol University, says will make compliance more likely.

Dr Ahmed said: "Clear guidance offers more than just rules to follow, it provides reassurance during stressful times.

"The more direct and simple rules are, the greater the likelihood of compliance as they are easier to remember."

Circuit breaker measures were first introduced by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in April to restrict movement in the country. The temporary measures saw schools and all but essential workplaces closed with restrictions on restaurants and household mingling. 

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