Jonathan Van-Tam: National circuit breaker is not needed

21 October 2020, 07:14 | Updated: 21 October 2020, 07:18

Jonathan Van-Tam spoke alongside the Prime Minister at a Downing Street press conference
Jonathan Van-Tam spoke alongside the Prime Minister at a Downing Street press conference. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

It would be 'unfair' to place the whole UK under Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions as a national circuit breaker lockdown isn't needed, Professor Van-Tam has said.

Speaking during a Downing Street press conference, Professor Van Tam said that he opposes the implementation of harsh measures across the country.

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer's comments will come as a blow to Kier Starmer, who is pushing for a two week circuit breaker across the country.

It comes as the Prime Minister repeatedly refused to implement any form of national lockdown, on the day Greater Manchester was pushed into Tier 3 lockdown against the wishes of local leaders.

When a public question about the possibility of a circuit-breaker lockdown, he said that while nothing has yet been ruled out, "the distribution of the virus is very uneven compared with March and April", and reaffirmed his commitment to local measures.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all had national circuit breaker lockdowns enforced, with senior SAGE members calling for one in England.

Speaking from Downing Street yesterday, Prof Van-Tam said a new national lockdown would be "wrong".

He said: “Pretty much everywhere in England is now heating up to some extent.

“We are trying to walk a very fine line in between getting the virus under control in areas where it is out of control while incurring the minimum amount of economic damage in doing so.

“It is clear that in the areas where it is out of control, hard measures are needed.

“But do I think right now it is appropriate to insist on those similar hard measures in, for example, the South West of England or Kent, where levels of the disease are very, very much lower than in the north of England?

“To impose a national firebreak, no I don’t think that’s right and I don’t think that’s right with the epidemiological picture we are seeing.”

However, he did acknowledge that infection rates are surging across the UK and something must be done to slow the spread.

He revealed via a series of heat maps that the virus is rising in almost every age group.

He also showed which areas are worst affected by the virus, calling the figures in the north-east and north-west, as well as the East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber "pretty stark".

"The North is running ahead of the rest of the country at the moment," he said.

Stephen Powis of Public Health England said: "There is variation around the country and indeed that is reflected in the number of patients seen in hospitals.

"There are more patients in hospitals in Greater Manchester alone at the moment than there are in hospitals in the entire south east and south west of England," he said.

Prof Van-Tam's comments were echoed in the House of Commons when Chancellor Rishi Sunak told Labour MPs and Shadow Chancellor Annelise Dodds that a return to nationwide restrictions would be "enormously damaging" for the economy.

"It's very clear that the party opposite thinks we should have a rolling programme of national lockdowns," he said.

"What I can tell [Ms Dodds] is that would be enormously damaging for people's jobs and livelihoods, causing unnecessary pain and suffering in parts of the country where the virus prevalence is low.

"A localised approach is the best approach."

Prof Van-Tam’s comments against implementing any circuit breaker in England came as Boris Johnson stood firm against mayor Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and put the area into a Tier Three lockdown from Friday.

Speaking at yesterday’s coronavirus briefing, Mr Johnson said not to act now would put the lives of Manchester’s residents at risk.

Local politicians have reacted angrily to the news, calling the way Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions are being introduced in Greater Manchester "spiteful, vindictive and nasty".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed £22 million of support would be available for local authorities, despite Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham pushing for £65m to support the livelihoods of people in the region as they face the closure of pubs, bars, bookmakers and other premises.

The Government is yet to confirm if there will be any extra cash for businesses, which provoked anger from Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell.

She said: "It's an utter disgrace that businesses and workers in GM won't get an extra penny from government to support them in Tier 3.

"Andy is right: it's utter spite.

"The idea of all in this together has been totally shattered this week."

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner was similarly enraged, and called the lockdown news "disgraceful" and "a punishment".

She said: "Greater Manchester been badly let down by the PM and his cronies in govt.

"Spiteful, Vindictive and Nasty, so many will now suffer great hardship, it will be the ones again who can least take it."

She had said earlier: "The Government have failed us in Gtr Mcr and we won't forget it."

"Andy Burnham is right to stand up to protect our communities."

Ms Rayner is the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne which will now also be moved into the Tier 3 category

The shadow foreign secretary called the incident "disgraceful".

Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan tweeted: "In 10 years in Parliament I've never seen anything like this.

"MPs are on a call with the Health Secretary being told Greater Manchester is getting only £22m while our mayor is at a press conference being told by the media.

"This is bad faith, it's immoral - just disgraceful."

She added: "I grew up under Thatcher but I've honestly never seen anything like this."

Earlier this week it was revealed that Wales will be thrown into a two-week "circuit breaker" lockdown - which will be called a "fire break" with all pubs and shops to be forced to shut from 6pm on Friday.The lockdown will fall over the half-term holiday and extend for a week beyond that.Primary schools will reopen as normal after the break and kids in secondary school in Year 7 and 8 will be able to go to school.All other students will have to go back to home learning.