'Traffic light' lockdown row as scientists renew calls for 'circuit break'

7 October 2020, 10:36 | Updated: 7 October 2020, 10:38

Manchester has been one of the cities worst hit by a surge in cases
Manchester has been one of the cities worst hit by a surge in cases. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Coronavirus lockdown measures are expected to be ramped up as cases continue to surge in the north of England, but scientists, business leaders and a growing number of politicians have expressed anger at the plans.

Tighter restrictions across the country - a so-called "circuit break" lockdown was today being backed by a leading scientist advising the government, amid reports of a growing Tory revolt over plans to bring in a new three-level "traffic light" system of restrictions.

Lizz Truss told LBC that her view was that the government was "getting the balance right" on the use of local lockdown restrictions.

She said the government was "having restrictions in place but allowing people to go about their business."

Read more: New traffic light lockdown system - explained

Professor Calum Semple, who specialises in disease outbreaks, recommended a "circuit breaker" be considered on a national basis in a bid to slow the virus, rather than trying to reduce it at a later stage.

Northern leaders have criticised the local lockdown strategy which they say "isn't working"
Northern leaders have criticised the local lockdown strategy which they say "isn't working". Picture: PA

Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof Semple - a member of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) - said perhaps a circuit breaker a couple of weeks ago would have been a "really good idea".

He added: "It's always easier to reduce an outbreak at the earlier stage than to let it run and then try to reduce it at a later stage.

According to the Government's coronavirus dashboard, there were 2,783 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals in England and 349 patients on ventilators as of Tuesday.

The number of those admitted to English hospitals on Sunday - the most recent day for which the figures are available - was 478, almost double the figure seven days previously.

The figures for hospital admissions and patients on ventilators in England are the highest since June.

Case numbers have risen sharply in recent weeks, with 14,542 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Tuesday. A fortnight ago, on September 22, there were 4,926 cases recorded.

The rise has led to warnings from leaders of northern cities that the local lockdown restrictions are "not working", confusing and even "counter-productive", as they called for new powers to tackle the resurgence.

The leaders of Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle City Councils - Judith Blake, Sir Richard Leese and Nick Forbes - joined Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson in writing to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to say they are "extremely concerned" about the rise in cases.

"The existing restrictions are not working, confusing for the public and some, like the 10pm rule, are counter-productive," the Labour politicians wrote.

They called for additional powers to punish those who break rules, for new restrictions to be developed by police, council and public health experts, and for a locally-controlled Test and Trace system.

"We want to be clear, however, that we do not support further economic lockdowns," the leaders added.

Mr Anderson told ITV's Good Morning Britain there is a "lack of consistency, a lack of clarity, but most of all a lack of communication and collaboration", and described the 10pm curfew as having "the wrong effect".

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the coronavirus restrictions in place across England are "right" but that the Government will keep them under review as case numbers rise.

Meanwhile, concerns were raised over the supply of vital materials used for Covid-19 testing following a supply chain problem with Roche.

The pharmaceutical giant said it had experienced a "very significant drop" in its processing capacity due to a problem with its Sussex distribution centre.

It has been reported that the shortage includes vital reagents, screening kits and swabs.

Ms Truss said people who need coronavirus tests should continue to seek them despite the issue, and that Roche is working to resolve the issue "as soon as possible".