Pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops in England have closed their doors and members of the public have been told to stay at home for the next four weeks in a bid to reverse the spread of Covid-19.
Downing Street said it was Boris Johnson’s “firm view” that the second national lockdown in England would end on December 2 and that the country would revert back to the regional tiered system.
But Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has suggested it is likely to be extended, saying ministers will “be guided by the facts” when deciding
Here, five experts give their views on whether it will be lifted on time, as reported by the Mirror.
John Ashton, former Public Health Director for Northern England – NO
It’s very unlikely, unless we address the spread of the disease in schools and universities.
The numbers of deaths are always around three weeks behind infections, so while we may begin to see infection rates levelling off by the end of November, the hospitals are likely to be in a terrible state.
One of the key statistics that isn’t mentioned is length of hospital stay. Because treatments are more effective, people are staying in hospital longer, and that means fewer hospital beds are available.
I think what frightened Boris Johnson into announcing this new lockdown were the predictions about hospitals becoming full.
Another reason I’m doubtful is the high levels of the virus in secondary schools, a reservoir for infecting other people at home.
The Government really needs to address this. If only having a third of workers in is good enough for the office sector, then we should be doing the same thing with schools, colleges and universities.
That means investing in reducing class sizes, employing the 20,000 teachers who qualified this year, and beefing up remote learning.
We mustn’t close schools, but unless we make changes to bring infection levels down in education settings, it will take much longer than a month to get to where we want to be.
But the Government hasn’t learned the lessons from the first lockdown and are repeating the same mistakes. We had time in the summer to get ready for the winter.
Christina Pagel, University College London and SAGE member – YES
Yes probably, but much of the country might stay in lockdown under a new Tier 4. My gut feeling is that after seven to 10 days we’ll see cases go down quite consistently.
That’s what we’ve seen in Northern Ireland, where they closed schools, and also in Ireland, where they haven’t.
What we don’t know is quite how quickly rates will fall. To lift lockdown you’ll need to get infections down to a level that will allow contact tracing to take over, and that’s no more than 5,000 cases a day nationally.
But with schools and universities staying open this time, cases aren’t going to fall nearly as quickly as it did during the first lockdown.
If we’re not seeing a reduction after two weeks then they’re going to have to do that, starting with secondary schools. The ONS says secondary school children are the highest growing group for Covid.
Assuming lockdown with schools open is enough, then if the R number only goes down to 0.85 – compared to between 0.6 and 0.7 in the spring – then we’ll still be at 10,000 cases a day by the beginning of December, and that’s too high.
The Government says we will go back to the tiers system after lockdown, but what isn’t clear is if there’s going to be a new Tier 4, which is essentially continuing with lockdown in higher prevalence areas.
My guess is that there will be a Tier 4 applied regionally. Or, they might also ease some restrictions, such as opening non-essential shops and having a rule of 6 for outside spaces, rather than just lift lockdown altogether, like they did in May.
Martin McKee, London School of Hygiene – MAYBE
It depends on whether the public, and the Government, do the right thing. There are two questions. First, should we exit restrictions on the December 2? Second, will we?
The first is a technical question. Given the adverse impact on people, restrictions should only continue as long as they are needed to achieve their goal.
This means the number of new daily cases is reduced to say 5,000 per day, that would allow the testing and tracing system to cope.
However, that, in turn, depends on the Government providing adequate support so people can adhere to the restrictions, and earning their trust so that they accept the need to do so.
It also depends on the Government using this time to put in place a testing and tracing system that works, because the existing privatised system we have does not.
The second question is a political one. It is widely agreed that both now and in March the Government acted too late and, in some parts of the country, lifted the first set of restrictions too early. There is a danger that it makes the same mistake again.
Countries such as Finland, Norway, and New Zealand have shown it is entirely possible to control this disease with minimal economic damage.
Unfortunately, the UK government has pursued policies that achieve the worst of all worlds. This has encouraged some people to promote dangerous, nonsensical and unethical ideas about creating immunity by letting the disease spread.
Prof Azeem Majeed, Head of Primary Care and Public Health, Imperial College London – NO
Probably not, and we’ll be in and out of lockdown for months.
The Government is hoping that the four-week lockdown will bring the R value – the average number of people that each new case of Covid-19 infects – below one.
The daily number of cases will then start to fall, and so will the number of people being admitted to hospital and the number of deaths.
But the “nightmare scenario” is that the measures are not strict enough or people do not comply with them, and that the R value stays above one, and the numbers of cases, hospital admissions and deaths do not fall.
This will mean continuing restrictions after the four weeks have ended.
Even if the number of cases does fall to a more manageable level by the end of lockdown, there will still be ongoing restrictions on social activities, resulting in Christmas 2020 being very different from a normal Christmas.
It’s also possible that we will see future waves infection after the four-week lockdown measures are relaxed – as we saw earlier in the year – meaning that we may get further lockdowns followed by periods of relaxation of lockdown.
This cycle may not end until we have a safe and effective vaccine that can finally bring Covid-19 under control across the world.
Dr Mike Tildesley, expert in infectious disease modelling, Warwick University – YES
Yes, as long as the Government get the public on side.
My hope is that the lockdown will be lifted on December 2, as long as we get a high level of adherence from the public. I think the public need a sense of certainty about when this will end, otherwise adherence to the measures will start to drop.
The point of the lockdown is to get the R number to below 1, and I think that the measures will do that, although it might be very close to 1.
During the first lockdown we did manage to get the R below one, but then schools were closed and students were not at university.
Look at the Tier 3 restrictions in the North West, where in the R is now between 1 and 1.2.
This new lockdown isn’t as stringent as the first one, but more stringent than Tier 3, which means that in four weeks we might be in the area of an R between 0.9 and 1.
If that’s the case, cases will be declining, but not very quickly. The Government might want to extend for a week or two, but I don’t think lockdown will last any longer than that.