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UK coronavirus live: Gove says lockdown could be extended as Johnson faces Tory backlash

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Well, you can’t say we weren’t warned. It’s not just that Sage, the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Emergencies, was urging Boris Johnson in September to impose a England-wide, “circuit breaker” lockdown. As long ago as in March Sage experts were saying that there might have to be multiple lockdowns. This is from a “consensus view” statement (pdf) by SPI-M-O, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, a Sage sub-committee. It was drafted on 16 March, a week before Johnson announced the first hard lockdown. SPI-M-O said:


It was agreed that the addition of both general social distancing and school closures to case isolation, household isolation and social distancing of vulnerable groups would be likely to control the epidemic when kept in place for a long period. SPI-M-O agreed that this strategy should be followed as soon as practical, at least in the first instance.

It was agreed that a policy of alternating between periods of more and less strict social distancing measures could plausibly be effective at keeping the number of critical care cases within capacity. These would need to be in place for at least most of a year. Under such as policy, at least half of the year would be spent under the stricter social distancing measures.

As you know, Johnson announced the second England-wide lockdown last night. Here is our overnight story.

Today we will get the full reaction. Here are at least three groups whose responses will be critical.

1) Conservative MPs. Many of Johnson’s MPs were already unhappy with the restrictions in place, and Saturday’s announcement came as a shock. A backlash is already underway. This is from an article (paywall) that Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former cabinet minister and former party leader, has written for today’s Sunday Telegraph. He says:


The PM’s announcement of a month-long lockdown is a body blow to the British people. Just as the economy was picking up, even giving cause for optimism, we are now to impersonate the Grand Old Duke of York – giving in to the scientific advisers and marching England back into another nationwide lockdown

Let us be very clear. There has been much talk of circuit breakers, but what was announced on Saturday night was a business breaker. Nor is it likely to be limited to what four weeks.

2) Business. The government has announced that its furlough scheme, under which employees can get up to 80% of their salary, is being extended while the lockdown is in place. But will that be enough to avert a jobs crisis?

3) Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The three devolved administrations have already launched their own versions of a circuit breaker lockdown, ahead of England, despite, in Scotland and Wales, case numbers being lower. But at the time they did not get the financial support now being made available on a UK-wide basis, and they are seeking assurances that they will not lose out if they start to lift their own restrictions ahead of England.

Here is the agenda for the day.

8.30am: Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, is interviewed on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday. Other interviewees include Sir Mark Walport, the former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, and Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI.

9am: Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is interviewed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. Other interviewees include Gove and Sir Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Emergencies (Sage).

Here is our global coronavirus live blog.

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