Bungling Boris Johnson’s delay in announcing a second national lockdown to reduce the spread of coronavirus – ignoring the advice of government experts calling for a “circuit-breaker” six weeks earlier – has cost people’s lives.
That is the view of Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader, in a speech given to the CBI’s annual conference at lunchtime today.
Johnson announced the second lockdown on Saturday – the decision had been leaked to that morning’s national papers. The renewed restrictions will begin on Thursday, November 5, and are expected to last at least a month. Though today, one senior government health expert said that four weeks is the minimum that this second lockdown could last.
Johnson’s announcement came the day after the number of positive cases in Croydon reached 99 – the highest figure seen for almost six months, and four times as many as were being recorded at the end of September.
In his speech today, Sir Keir said, “On 21st September, the government’s own scientists – SAGE – recommended an ‘urgent’ two-to-three week circuit breaker in order to prevent the virus getting out of control.
“On that day there were 11 deaths from covid-19 and there were just over 4,000 Covid infections. The prime minister failed to heed that warning.
“Forty days later, when he finally decided to announce a longer four-week national lockdown, those figures had increased to 326 deaths a day, and 22,000 covid cases. That is the human cost of the government’s inaction.”
Leading government health officials have meanwhile been briefing today that the national lockdown will last for a minimum of four weeks now.
Dr Susan Hopkins, a deputy director of Public Health England and the medical adviser to NHS Test and Trace, said, “The minimum we’ll see a lockdown throughout this period is four weeks.
“The reason for that is that we are going to have a slowdown, hopefully, over the next two weeks, in the number of cases, but we really need to bring the caseload down much lower than we have right now in order to protect the NHS over the December-to-January period.”
It will hardly be reassuring that Dr Hopkins was unable to say whether the latest spike, which has gathered momentum since the start of September, was due to infections spreading in schools.
“We don’t know exactly,” Dr Hopkins said. “We do know that the majority of children have infection that’s related to infection in their households, which is clearly the most likely place that children will get infected.
“We know that over the summer families and people have been all back in work and going out and socialising, so there are many routes of infection and bringing it into the household.
“We have also agreed that we want our children to be in education, that we think that the damage done from a year of children’s education lost is too high for us to accept as a society.”
The National Education Union called for schools to be closed for at least two weeks as part of the lockdown measures, but unlike in March, the government has decided to keep schools open.
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