The British government on Wednesday resisted a short lockdown for all of England, despite calls from the opposition to shut the country down for two weeks as a “circuit breaker”, a step which a new scientific study said could save thousands of lives.
With cases rapidly rising, the British government opted this week for a three-tier system of local measures. The Liverpool area became the first part of the country in the highest category, requiring bars, gyms and other businesses to shut, perhaps for months.
On Wednesday, British-ruled Northern Ireland, which is outside the tier system, announced the toughest UK coronavirus measures since the pre-summer peak, shutting restaurants and suspending schools.
The British government’s critics say a short, sharp nationwide lockdown could be more effective than local measures, and would spread the economic burden more fairly.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer called on Tuesday for a 2-3 week lockdown. His call was backed up on Wednesday by a study from some of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s scientific advisers.
According to the study, if daily deaths reach 200 by Oct. 24, as many as 80,000 more people in Britain could die by the end of the year. A two-week lockdown could save half of them. Even in less extreme scenarios it could save thousands of lives.
“The optimal time for a break is always now; there are no good epidemiological reasons to delay the break,” said the paper, co-authored by Graham Medley, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, and Matt Keeling of the government’s pandemic modelling subgroup.
Work and Pensions Minister Thérèse Coffey said on Wednesday the new three-tier system should be given a chance to work.
“I do not believe that the prime minister wants to set off on a national lockdown, but as ever he is advised by scientists – he takes that decision,” Coffey told Sky.