Over the past two weeks, England has seen the introduction of the new three tier system and Wales has announced that they are heading into a short 'firebreak lockdown' for two weeks over the half term.
It’s troubling news for many people who are concerned that we are having another lockdown in the UK like that we saw in March, especially since over the last few months we’ve seen more localised lockdowns and restrictions than ever before.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously warned that the colder months will bring new challenges in fighting coronavirus, as other viral infections like the common cold or flu, also become more prevalent. On the topic of whether the UK will be having another lockdown, he also said, “The battle against coronavirus is not over – and while we strain every sinew to spring free from its clutches, with winter on the horizon, we must prepare, bolster our defences and come together once again against this common foe.
“Winter is always a stretching time for health and for care. But this winter presents particular challenges. People will be spending more time indoors, where we know the virus is more likely to spread and we know that we will need to deal with coronavirus along with the usual pressures that the season will bring.”
For the first time, the government has released a functional NHS contact tracing app to try and identify and isolate the areas that are spiking around the UK. It was a promise made right as the UK went into lockdown for the first time and now has come to fruition with over 10 million downloads in the first few days.
But with all these warnings and measures now in place, will the UK have another lockdown in the coming months?
Are we having another lockdown in the UK?
While the government’s new three tier system has been announced and Wales has gone into a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, there is not currently indication that the UK will enter another full lockdown like we had in March. The prime minister has said that we won’t rule out a second lockdown if it’s required, but he’s emphasised in the past how unwilling he was for the whole country to go into lockdown again.
Boris Johnson has said, “If people don’t follow the rules we have set out, then we must reserve the right to go further. We always knew that while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real. I’m sorry to say that in Spain and France and many other countries, we’ve reached a perilous turning point.”
However, he continued to express his reluctance to put the country back into another lockdown, which would see all hospitality establishments like pubs and restaurants close to diners and a ban on seeing people outside of your social bubble. The prime minister has previously called the potential move “disastrous” and assured the public that the government was doing everything in their power to prevent the second wave and a second lockdown. However, he conceded that there were some problems with some regions not being able to get a coronavirus test as well as issues with the track and trace scheme.
He emphasised, “I don’t want a second national lockdown – I think it would be completely wrong for this country and we are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.” Boris Johnson said, “And can we afford it? I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous, but we have to make sure that we defeat the disease by the means that we have set out.
“So when I see people arguing against the rule of six or saying that the government is coming in too hard on individual liberties and so on – I totally understand that and I sympathise with that, but we must, must defeat this disease.”
The statement comes as it was revealed that in early September and continuing later into the month, the UK had experienced the biggest rise in coronavirus cases since May and positive Covid-19 cases are currently doubling every seven or eight days. As a result, the government changed the laws on social ‘mingling’ and now only six people are allowed to meet up both inside and outside the home.
To avoid a second wave being dangerous enough to force the UK into another lockdown, the government laid out new rules which included a change in rules for hospitality venues and new guidelines for wearing masks. Speaking to MPs on September 22, Boris Johnson said, “I want to stress this is by no means a return to the full lockdown we saw in March. We are not issuing a general instruction to stay at home.”
The new rules laid out by the prime minister now include:
- From Thursday September 24, all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate table service only, except for takeaways. They must close at 10pm, with last orders being called well before this.
- Those who are able to work from home should do so.
- Face coverings must be worn by staff in retail, all users of taxis and private hire cars and all users of hospitality indoors, except when seated at a table to eat.
- A tightening of the rule of six, with a maximum of 15 people allowed to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions. Up to 30 people can still attend a funeral, however.
- All sports teams are now limited to six people as well, with more information to come from the culture secretary on this.
The prime minister added, “These rules, these measures only work if people comply. There is nothing more frustrating for the law-abiding majority than the few brazenly defying the rules. These rules will be enforced by tighter penalties.”
It was Michael Gove who originally announced the change in the government’s messaging around working from home, much to media and online criticism. In the last month, there has been a huge push from the government to get people back into the office but now, as the minister announced, there is a new “response to the spread of the virus”. He insisted that it was not an “about-turn” and England would not be “going back to the sort of measures we had in the spring.”
The new rules would mean that schools could remain open under new safety measures, however. While another report from the BBC suggests an additional ‘circuit-break of a few weeks’ over the half term could keep a handle on the spread. During this time it’s thought that hospitality venues, like pubs and restaurants, would close. But as of yet, no firm decisions have been made despite the government’s chief financial advisor saying that there would be ‘significant number of deaths’ by the end of October if nothing is done to combat the spread.
What does a circuit breaker lockdown mean?
To prevent another full lockdown from being implemented, it’s thought that the UK could enter a lockdown of two weeks to help reverse the spike in infections – otherwise known as a circuit breaker lockdown. If it goes ahead, with reports suggesting that it could happen over the October half-term, then pubs, restaurants and all other leisure facilities would close and people would be unable to mix households. Schools and workplaces would be able to stay open however, as the prime minister has previously made clear that is one of the government’s top priorities.
It was announced on Tuesday October 6 that Scotland could be the first part of the UK to head into one of these circuit breaker lockdowns by Friday. As an NHS source told The Sun newspaper, “We’ve been told to expect it from 7pm on Friday.” and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to make an announcement with confirmed later on today. This comes as 697 cases of coronavirus were reported in Scotland yesterday, with just under 13 per cent of people just tested returning a positive test result, and there has been a sharp increase in hospital admissions for the virus over the last few weeks. 218 are currently in hospital and 22 are in intensive care.
Nicola Sturgeon has previously warned that ministers had to make “very difficult decisions” in the coming days and weeks about imposing new restrictions on Scotland. She also said, “I want to promise you that we do not impose restrictions lightly. If we decide that extra restrictions are necessary, it will be because we deem it necessary and vital to get the virus back under control and avoid unnecessary loss of life.”
Will students in the UK be in lockdown for Christmas?
Matt Hancock has refused to rule out the idea of prohibiting students from returning home for Christmas this year, according to BBC reporting, but at the moment there are no plans to keep students in lockdown for Christmas. This comes despite a university in Glasgow reporting 120 positive coronavirus tests among 600 who are currently self-isolating and most recently, the University of Northumbria announced they had 770 cases.
On the BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, the health secretary said that he had learnt “not to rule things out”. He added, “I don’t want to have a situation like that and I very much hope we can avoid it. We have said throughout that our goal is to suppress the virus, whilst protecting the economy and protecting education. And protecting people in education whether it’s school or university is obviously critical as is protecting the economy.”
“In terms of universities, we are working very closely with them to try to make sure the students are safe, but that they can also get their education.
“This is not our goal, I don’t want to leave you with the expectation – but we have to work on all contingencies at the moment.”
Is there a second wave coming to the UK?
Following concerns raised by the health secretary in July over concerns about a potential second wave in the UK, the government has doubled down on the issue of the rising cases and hospital admissions that are currently being seen across the country. On Friday September 18, Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted that the UK is currently experiencing another wave of coronavirus and following this, the government enforced some nationwide lockdown restrictions to try and reduce the spread of the virus.
Upon making the announcement, the PM said, “Around a month ago, on average a thousand people across the UK were testing positive for coronavirus everyday. The latest figures show that figure has almost quadrupled to 3,929.
“A rising proportion of the tests themselves are yielding a positive result. I wish I could say that more of our people have the anti-bodies to fight the virus off but the latest figures show that fewer than 8 per cent of us are in this position.
“It’s true that the number of new cases are growing fastest between those aged 20 to 29 but the virus is spreading to more vulnerable age groups as we have seen in France and Spain, where this has led to increased hospital admissions and sadly, more deaths.”
He also emphasised that with this incoming second wave, daily hospital admissions have doubled and Covid-19 is much more likely to spread faster in winter than it is in summer, with other viral infections also playing a role. He added, “Transmission is high or rising exponentially. This is the moment where we must act.”
Earlier this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted, ‘The raising of the alert level announced by the @CMO_England reflects the significant shift in the current threat posed by coronavirus. We face a tipping point & it’s vital everybody plays their part now to stop the spread of the virus and protect lives.’
Back in July, the health secretary admitted on Sky News that he was “concerned” about the potential of a second wave in the UK, after noting a rise in coronavirus cases in Europe. This followed the government’s quarantine list of countries being announced earlier in the month. Matt Hancock said, “I am worried about a second wave. I think you can see a second wave starting to roll across Europe, and we’ve got to do everything we can to prevent it from reaching these shores, and to tackle it.
“The measures that the chief medical officer will set out later are part of that.”
He also appeared to speak on the recent quarantine imposed on people coming from Spain at the time, saying, “So too are the measures we’re taking, for instance to ensure that we don’t directly bring cases back to this country where there’s a big spike in cases.
“So absolutely on a second wave – it is something I worry about, and I worry about it because we can see it happening.”
In fact, The Lancet, a medical journal, warned back in April about the possibility of a second wave of infections of coronavirus restrictions were relaxed too soon.
Is there a second wave sweeping across Europe?
Back in July, Matt Hancock warned that a second wave was beginning to creep across Europe again. He followed up these comments in September by suggesting that younger people were largely responsible for the increase in cases and it was through younger generations elsewhere in Europe that the second wave began.
“The numbers have been going up. And we’ve seen in other countries where this leads, and it is not a good place,” Matt Hancock said, before going on to use the example of France and Spain where, “that second wave started largely amongst younger people, it then spreads”.
“And now we’re seeing a sharp rise in the number of people in hospital and the number of people who are dying in those countries.
Further to this, the World Health Organisation warned that coronavirus cases are increasing in Europe and a “very serious situation” is unfolding across the continent, as reported by CNN. Regional Director Hans Kluge said, “In the spring and early summer we were able to see the impact of strict lockdown measures. Our efforts, our sacrifices, paid off. In June cases hit an all-time low. The September case numbers, however, should serve as a wake-up call for all of us,”
Could smaller lockdowns continue to be the way forward for the UK?
The localised lockdowns across the country, which started with Leicester in July, have been largely cited as a success by the government and been given as a reason for the country not going into another lockdown. When Leicester was first put under the new restrictions, the rate of cases per 100,000 people fell in particular areas and come October, one in three people are currently under regional guidelines of varying degrees.
But progress has slowed and it turns out that Leicester was the only city to see a drop in cases after going into a smaller lockdown and in some areas, positive cases have dropped momentarily only to spike again in the weeks after. Manchester, for example, was under restrictions for nine weeks and in that time, the city saw the number of cases more than triple. While some attribute this to an increase in testing, which is true in some cases, the number of tests coming back positive has risen so it suggests that the virus is in face more common in the population than it was some weeks before. The mayor of Greater Manchester has said the reason for this could be two-fold: the local test and trace initiative wasn’t operating correctly and the population lacked the initiative to follow the rules as there was a huge disassociation between national and local lockdown rules, with neither being particularly clear. So what does it take for local lockdowns to work?
Medical epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, Lakshmi Manoharan, wrote in The Conversation that certain criteria need to be met for lockdown to be effective. She said that this included “clear communication and data-sharing between all levels of government, including local authorities, the NHS, Public Health England and the UK government. Data must be made readily available to all parties, including up-to-date case numbers to help identify hotspots. In doing so, early action can be undertaken and the necessity for wider restrictive measures reduced.
“A robust testing and tracing strategy must also be in place. Tests should be easy for people to access with results rapidly provided. Cases and their contacts who are required to self-isolate should be supported by central government to assist with accommodation and cover loss of income.
“Finally, local authorities must be involved at every step with clear community messaging that gives people ample opportunity to prepare for increased restrictions.”
Importantly, Lakshmi also said that local lockdowns do work, “As recent evidence from a study of these measures in the Italian city of Vo’ has demonstrated – and they remain our best option if there is continued viral transmission in the community.”
So while there is no definite to whether the UK will have another lockdown by the end of the year, there are promises from the government that further local lockdowns will be introduced and by no means should we rule out the possibility of a second lockdown if cases begin to significantly spike.