Government was told to introduce 'circuit-breaker' lockdown three weeks ago

The Government was told by the influential scientific group SAGE to introduce a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown three weeks ago, new documents reveal.

On the day that a new three-tier system was brought in to slow the spread of coronavirus, the Government published papers showing that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies backed five possible measures on Monday, September 21.

The first suggestion was the circuit-breaker lockdown; followed by advice to work from home for all that can; banning all contact within homes between households; closing all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gyms, and personal services like hairdressers; and forcing all university and college teaching to go online. It comes as Professor Chris Whitty admitted tier three restrictions may not go far enough.

The advice read: ‘A package of interventions will need to be adopted to reverse this exponential rise in cases. Single interventions themselves are unlikely to be able to bring R below 1 (high confidence).’

It continued: ‘A more effective response now may reduce the length of time for which some measures are required.

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‘The rapid rise in cases means that a raft of complementary operational response measures is even more important to reduce transmission, particularly in care homes, hospitals and other enclosed settings.’

Earlier today, Sage scientist Professor Calum Semple warned the new restrictions had come too late and warned a circuit-breaker could have to be brought in within weeks.

Asked if the level of response announced for London is sufficient for the threat, the University of Liverpool academic told BBC Radio 4’s PM: ‘I’m going to be difficult and say no, I think we’re a little late to react.’

He said there is a three-to-four-week delay before interventions see benefits in hospitals.

‘I and other people who were advocating for quite stringent severe local interventions where necessary three to four weeks ago, our fear is now that we’re in another place now,’ he said.

‘And that we’re going to need a much firmer intervention perhaps, the so-called circuit-breaker, in the matter of weeks.

‘The outbreak is a bit like a super-tanker, you put the brakes on but it takes a long time before you see the effect.’

Earlier today, at the Downing Street press conference, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, said: ‘I am not confident and nor is anybody confident that the tier three proposals for the highest rates – if we did the absolute base rates and nothing more – would be enough to get on top of it.

‘That is why there is a lot of flexibility in the tier three level for local authorities to guided by the directors of public health to actually go up that range so that they can do sufficiently more than the absolute base.

‘The base will not be sufficient, I think that is very clearly the professional view.’

This is a breaking story – more to follow.

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