• Scientists from the Sage committee presented No 10 with bleak figures showing pace of Covid-19’s spread

  • Cabinet source told Mail that the move to place country back in lockdown will be announced next week

  • Government now faces a critical weekend to determine the shape of the measures before an announcement

  • The Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are said to have agonised over the decision

  • Scientists – backed by Matt Hancock and Michael Gove – said virus was on track to kill 85,000 this winter

Source: Daily Mail

By SIMON WALTERS and DANIEL MARTIN FOR THE DAILY MAIL and HARRY HOWARD FOR MAILONLINE

PUBLISHED: 21:59, 30 October 2020 | UPDATED: 05:34, 31 October 2020

Reprinted for educational purposes and social benefit, not for profit. 

Boris Johnson is expected to announce a national lockdown next week after his scientific advisers told him it was the only way to save Christmas.

Scientists from the Sage committee yesterday presented No 10 with bleak figures showing that Covid is spreading ‘significantly’ faster than even their original ‘worst-case scenario’ prediction.

Last night a Cabinet source told the Mail that the dramatic move will be announced next week.

Mr Johnson is expected to make the announcement on Monday, with the restrictions beginning on Wednesday. It is thought they could last until December 1.

There were few details last night, but it is expected pubs and restaurants will be closed for weeks – causing further damage to the hospitality industry. Schools are expected to remain open.

Another source claimed to The Times that non-essential shops would shut.

The Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have agonised over the decision because of fears it would leave the economy in tatters.

But the scientists – backed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and senior minister Michael Gove – told them the virus was on track to kill 85,000 this winter, and that it was too late for a so-called ‘circuit break’.

They called for a longer national lockdown – similar to the month-long shutdown in France – saying it was the only way to stop hospitals from running out of beds.

In a clear signal of the deep Government split on the issue, a Cabinet source said those opposed to a lockdown were ‘not prepared to surrender’.

The Mail has been told that Mr Johnson’s No 10 team is also split, with an influential adviser understood to have warned him this week that a national lockdown was ‘inevitable’ – and delaying it could backfire on him. It came as:

  • Mr Johnson is to meet the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to thrash out a ‘common approach to Christmas’;
  • The number of virus patients in hospital has doubled in the past fortnight, with 10,708 patients being treated by the NHS.
  • The ONS said 50,000 people were becoming infected with coronavirus each day, with a further 274 fatalities reported yesterday;
  • A poll by anti-lockdown group Recovery found that more than 70 per cent of people were more worried about the effect of lockdown than they were of catching Covid.

A senior Government source told The Times that no final decision had been made over the new lockdown measures.

They added: ‘The data is really bad.

‘We’re seeing coronavirus rising all over the country and hospitals are struggling to cope. There has been a shift in our position.’

Details of the lockdown row emerged after the Mail disclosed how the Prime Minister has been warned by scientists – led by Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance – that all hospitals in England will be full by December 17 unless he took more action.

Andy Street, the Conservative West Midlands mayor, said it was clear more action was needed. He added: ‘Whether it be a national four-week lockdown, I do not know, but what I do know is that the message is very clear: we have to take further action to turn this tide.’

Professor Dominic Harrison, director of public health at Blackburn with Darwen council, called for a circuit-breaker because Tier Three households were ‘not complying completely’ with the guidance.

But Jon Dobinson, of Recovery, said: ‘The concept of a four-week lockdown to save Christmas is yet more cruel and inhumane policy which will further fuel the growing mental health crisis – all justified by holding out a false hope.

‘People are dying in their thousands from lockdown and restrictions: it’s time to focus on that.’

A scientific source working for the Government also told The Times that it is now ‘too late’ for a circuit-breaker lockdown.

They said: ‘It’s definitely too late to think that [a] two-week circuit breaker on its own would sort us out . . . It almost certainly would need to go on for longer.’

Professor Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said of the prospect of a new lockdown: ‘To bring Covid-19 under control, we have to act now. The virus will not wait for us.’

The infectious disease expert wrote on Twitter: ‘Nobody ‘wants’ a lockdown, myself very much included. Full & generous support for people & businesses is a crucial part of making it work.

‘But we have quickly breached the reasonable worst-case scenario, we are further ahead in this phase of the epidemic than many have assumed.

‘The best time to act was a month ago but these are very tough decisions which we would all like to avoid. The second-best time is now.’

Professor Gabriel Scally, a Sage member and president of the epidemiology and public health section at the Royal Society of Medicine, said on Twitter: ‘It is possible to be very concerned about the impact of the pandemic on mental health and the treatment of non-Covid conditions, and still believe that stricter measures are the best and most necessary course of action. The more the virus spreads the less capacity the NHS has.

Sage member Professor Christina Pagel, from UCL, added that another national lockdown is ‘inevitable’. The director of clinical operational research told Sky News: ‘Broadly speaking, Covid is spreading, particularly in England and Wales.

‘I suspect Wales’ cases will come down next week as their firebreak starts to take effect. ‘But basically it’s spreading everywhere and at the moment it’s spreading mainly in Tier 1 areas.’

Asked if a second national lockdown is worth damaging the economy and people’s mental health, she said: ‘I think it’s inevitable, and given that it’s inevitable I think the sooner you do it the quicker it’s over and the more lives you save.’