What is a circuit breaker lockdown and what could one look like?

13 October 2020, 19:27

A circuit breaker lockdown is being proposed for England after previously being suggested for Scotland
A circuit breaker lockdown is being proposed for England after previously being suggested for Scotland. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

A circuit breaker lockdown is one of the stricter lockdown measures that has been suggested by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. But what is a circuit breaker and what could one look like?

Sir Keir made the suggestion on Tuesday during his first coronavirus press conference since being elected as Labour leader earlier this year.

It comes as MPs voted in favour of the government's three-tier local lockdown system that had been announced by Boris Johnson on Monday.

Earlier this month, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for a circuit breaker in Scotland, while ministers recently chose to ignore advice from the government's scientific advisers (Sage) who called for such a move weeks ago.

With the prime minister's new measures set to come into effect on Wednesday, we look at what a circuit breaker lockdown could look like for England.

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What is a circuit breaker lockdown?

The circuit breaker lockdown was initially devised in Singapore, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong implemented the measure in April. 

It means that all but essential workplaces will be closed, with strict restrictions on restaurants and public spaces.

This form of lockdown involves shorter bursts of restrictions, as opposed to the longer lockdown the UK saw at the start of the year.

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How long would it last and when would it begin?

The idea behind a circuit breaker lockdown is that it will be a "short, sharp shock" to break the chains of transmission.

However, it is still supposed to be short enough to minimise any effect on the economy.

It is very likely that any circuit-breaker would be for a defined period of time, rather than indefinite like the original UK-wide lockdown back in March.

Scotland's National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch, previously talked about two weeks being enough to buy the country another 28 days in the fight against the virus.

And on Tuesday, Sir Keir Starmer called for a two-to-three-week lockdown in order to "protect the NHS, fix testing and get control of the virus".

He suggested introducing the measure over the October half-term in order to minimise disruption.

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What would a circuit breaker look like?

Sir Keir said a circuit breaker would not mean closing schools, but would mean only essential travel, people working from home where possible, and closing pubs, bars and restaurants.

“It would mean only essential work and travel. That everyone who can work from home should do so. Non-essential offices should be closed. Household mixing should be restricted to one household except for those who’ve formed support ‘bubbles’," he added.

"And all pubs, bars and restaurants would be closed for two-to-three weeks – but compensated so that no business loses out because of the sacrifices we all need to make. It should also mean the UK Parliament moves to remote working."

During that time, it is hoped the NHS would be protected from a surge in patients, the Test and Trace programme could be fixed and the virus could be brought under control.

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