As Boris Johnson faces increased pressure to introduce a short “circuit breaker” national lockdown, scientists have warned that “no plan is guaranteed to work”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer ramped up the pressure on the prime minister on Tuesday by calling for a two- to three-week lockdown for the whole country to curb rising cases of coronavirus.
However, Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that there is no specific evidence of circuit breakers working in bringing numbers down.
He said: “I don’t think any plan is guaranteed to work. We’re seeing substantial rapid increases in case numbers, and we heard yesterday from the chief medical officer that the new restrictions on their own are unlikely to turn the tide completely.
“When it comes to the suggestion of a two-week circuit breaker, we haven’t really seen what the specific evidence is for the value of that as a measure.”
Hunter said that at the end of the two-week period “we might just be a bit behind the curve than where we would have been otherwise” and that the new tier system is “unlikely to substantially change the tide”.
He added: “Each individual intervention will have some value, but we need a package of interventions.
“Each by itself won’t achieve anything major but taken together a package can slow the epidemic, but won’t reverse it.
“None of us really has a good grasp of exactly what to do. There are no easy options.”
The government has so far resisted implementing a circuit breaker lockdown, while work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey said this morning she did not think it was the right move.
Watch: Keir Starmer calls for circuit breaker lockdown
Asked on LBC radio whether there was appetite in the Conservative Party for a two- to three-week lockdown, she said: “No, I don’t.
“The reason being, Parliament has only just voted last night for this national approach of the three tiers with much stronger local measures where they are needed.”
Coffey highlighted how Labour said local lockdowns had made no difference in 19 out of 20 areas shortly before it called for national restrictions.
She added: “I don’t think it is the right approach. Right now we need to allow this chance for the localised interventions to really have an effect so that together we can be focused on saving lives and livelihoods.”
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Labour’s leader cited advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) that a circuit breaker could set back the virus by 28 days.
Starmer said of Johnson amid a second surge of COVID-19 infections and hospital admissions: “There’s no longer time to give this prime minister the benefit of the doubt.”
Calling for a circuit breaker, which Sage recommended to the government last month, Starmer said: “This would not mean closing schools. But if this happens imminently, it can be timed to run across half-term to minimise disruption.”
He said only essential work and travel should be allowed during this period, with households banned from mixing and all pubs and restaurants shut.
Professor Keith Neal, from the University of Nottingham, said closing schools for three weeks would mean children missing education “when the reality is very little spread between children is occurring in schools”.
He added: “Keir Starmer’s plan of only two weeks will not be long enough. Too many people are flouting current mixing guidelines/rules.”
Watch: Government ‘ignored advice on lockdown’