Coronavirus: Michael Gove rejects calls for immediate ‘circuit-breaker’ national lockdown

Cabinet Office minister says current spread of infection does ‘not merit’ blanket restrictions

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 18 October 2020 09:59 BST
Michael Gove says there will be no circuit breaker in England

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Michael Gove has rejected calls from opposition parties and government scientists for an immediate “circuit breaker” national lockdown in England to tackle a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

Despite the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies urging the implementation of urgent restrictions three weeks’ ago, the Cabinet Office minister insisted the current spread of the disease does “not merit” blanket restrictions.

Asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge programme whether a circuit breaker was going to happen in England, Mr Gove replied: “No.”

The cabinet minister added: “It would seem to me to be an error to try to impose on every part of the country the same level of restriction, when we know the disease is spreading more intensively and quickly and some parts of the country.”

When pressed on whether the measure could be take in the future, he went on: “We always look at how the disease spreads and we will take whatever steps are necessary to maintain public health”.

Speaking after Sir Keir Starmer called for an immediate circuit-breaker lockdown to stem levels of transmission across the country, Mr Gove said: “The Labour Party are arguing for blanket restrictions across the country at the moment and the spread and nature of the disease does not merit that at the moment.”

However, on Sunday, Sage member professor Jeremy Farrar insisted it was better to impose a circuit-break lockdown “now, than in a month’s time”.

He said: "In my view the best time to do this would have been around 20th September as Sage advised, that wasn't decided upon then.

“The second best time to do this is now and the worst time to do this is at the end of November when things would have really got considerably worse.”

Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, said that a circuit-breaker lockdown would give the country a chance to “reset”, but failed to guarantee it would only last one to two-weeks as proposed by Sir Keir Starmer.

She said: “We could use that time to boost our lab capacity, to put proper local tracing processes in place and then we would have that breathing space which would buy us time really and stop the real danger that our NHS faces, that our hospitals are going to be filling up far too quickly over the next few weeks.

"And so it would really give us the chance to reset and take a step back before this virus really spirals right out of control."

"I think it is really important not to waste the period of a circuit-breaker. You know, it's not just everybody goes home and stays at home for two to three weeks and then we come back out again."

As No 10 and Greater Manchester’s leaders fail to negotiate further restrictions in the region, Mr Gove also accused the mayor Andy Burnham of “posturing” and reiterated Boris Johnson’s call for targeted action in the area to “save people’s lives”.

He said: "I want to reach an agreement with the political leadership in Greater Manchester. I want them to put aside for a moment some of the political positioning that they've indulged in and I want them to work with us in order to ensure that we save lives and protect the NHS.

"Instead of press conferences and posturing what we need is action to save people's lives."

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