Late last night, reports emerged in a number of new sources that the government was yet again going to implement a so-called lockdown. Less than 24 hours later (and 2 ½ hours later than planned), Boris Johnson, flanked by two of the government’s chief scientists, emerged at the lectern in Downing Street. The picture they painted was a grim one: if we don’t act now, not only is the chance of a vaguely normal Christmas all but gone, but we could face the prospect of something in the region of 4000 deaths per day, and the NHS being overrun. The Prime Minister said we must be “humble in the face of nature” and as such has introduced a raft of new restrictions that, while a complete U-turn on what his government until as late as yesterday had maintained was the right option by focusing on local outbreaks, are necessary should we want to prevent the NHS from facing collapse. There were however a number of differences that mean we are not back where we were in the spring – but we should not underestimate the seriousness of where we are.
In this article, we will try to lay out what the new restrictions are addressed some of the key questions that have become apparent in the wake of tonight’s announcement.
What? Where? When?
According to what the Prime Minister said this evening, the new restrictions will come into place across England from Thursday and will last for a period just short of one calendar month – from 5 November to 2 December. These restrictions are as follows:
- You cannot mix with other households indoors (except for childcare)
- You must stay at home and may only leave for specific reasons including:
- Work and education
- Exercise and recreation with either your own household, or one person from outside of your household in an outdoor location
- In case of emergency or to escape harm
- For medical reasons and appointments
- Provide care
- Shop for essentials
- Non-essential retail premises must close but click and collect services can still operate.
- Pubs, bars, and restaurants have to close, but can still offer takeaway and delivery services.
- Single adult households can form support bubbles
- The clinically vulnerable should be careful to follow rules and minimise contacts
- Childcare and early years settings, schools, colleges, and universities can remain open.
So whats different to last time?
Although the exact specifics of what this will mean for each individual business, and maybe even each individual industry, remain to be fully mapped out initially there are a number of key differences to last time. Firstly, schools, colleges, universities and childcare settings will remain open – while the government has always said that this is an absolute priority, unions have reacted angrily at the prospect with both the NEU and UCU voicing concerns. Secondly, on this occasion the rules about meeting others and going outside our less severe than they were in spring; for example there is no limit on the amount of exercise you can do outdoors today and you are allowed to meet one other person from outside your household an outdoor setting. Also support bubbles between single adult households and another household are permitted.
And the rest of the UK?
- Wales’ so-called firebreak will end as planned
- NI tighter restrictions will remain in place until 13th November, as planned.
- Scotland will introduce its 5 tier system as already outlined but has now issued advice to Scots to avoid all but essential travel to England.
Why has the PM felt the need to act now?
The press conference was opened by Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance outlining the data and rationale behind the implementation of these restrictions. Essentially, the data showed that if things continue on their current track then the country would face a far more imminent, and a far higher peak than what even the reasonable worst-case scenario models were anticipating. Failure to do something would, according to assessment of NHS capacity see the health service overrun and in the words of the PM leave “Doctors and Nurses forced to choose who to treat, who to give oxygen to. Who to let live, who to let die. To choose between covid and non-covid patients.” Even regions that had a relatively low caseload at the moment could find themselves in this position limited.
As a result of this information he said that “no responsible Prime Minister can ignore that”.
Is there financial support?
Yes, the furlough scheme (which was due to end in a matter of hours) will make a full return with up to 80% of workers salaries being funded by the taxpayer.
Whats the political fallout?
While the details remain to be seen, this is no doubt a troubling position politically for the government to find themselves in. Until the last day or so ministers had still been on camera defending the system of localised tiers. Couple that with the fact that scientific minds have been pushing for restrictions such as these since September and other devolved nations have taken stricter measures than those that have been in place in England, and you start to see that major questions will be asked in the coming days and weeks as to why it took the government so long to take the action that they have.
Conservative backbenchers, some of whom have been the most opposed to the reimposition of lockdown measures such as those announced night, have acknowledged the difficult decision the government is faced with. However, there is definite frustration that the first they heard about this was not from Downing Street but from a leak to several major newspapers that emerged last night. An enquiry into the source about Lake has begun, but such enquiries are remarkably common in Westminster and rarely do they find who they are looking for.
How do we get out of this?
The specifics of that are something of an unknown still. Indeed, one of the reasons Boris Johnson was apparently so reluctant to implement measures such as these is that he regarded them as something of a “Hotel California”. Very easy to get into, significantly harder to get out of.
Despite this, the PM did offer some signs of how he might seek to go about easing restrictions from 2nd December onwards saying that come that date regions would be put back into the tier system with specifics depending on various local factors. More details will likely emerge as the weeks go on.
All of that, however, is still to come. For now the governments original messaging returns – stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.
Image Credit: No10 Flickr