Boris Johnson has defended his decision not to introduce a ‘circuit break’ lockdown despite being recommended to do so by his scientific advisers three weeks ago.
Quizzed on his decision to introduce the more lenient three tiered approach instead of a full blown shut-down, the Prime Minister said his new regional system will bring down coronavirus infections and ‘avoid the misery of another national lockdown.’
Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer – who himself backs the idea of a two or three week circuit break – used his platform in Prime Minister’s questions to accuse Mr Johnson of ‘abandoning the science.’
It’s after recommendations from the Government’s scientific advisory committee, Sage, emerged showing experts were calling for a circuit break as early as September 21.
Sir Keir said: ‘On May 11, the Prime Minister said that the Government’s Covid strategy – and I quote him – “will be governed entirely by the science”.
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‘On September 21, the Government’s own scientific advisers, Sage, gave very clear advice – they said “a package of interventions including a circuit-breaker will be needed to prevent an exponential rise in cases”. Why did the Prime Minister reject that advice and abandon the science?’
The PM said he has been advised that the three tiered approach he outlined on Monday – which ranks places by a medium, high or very high threat levels – will ‘bring down the virus.’
Currently only Merseyside is in the top tier for restrictions and pubs and bars not serving meals have been closed since last night.
Mr Johnson told the Commons: ‘We will do whatever it takes to fight this virus and to defeat it.
‘But since he (Keir Starmer) quotes the Sage advice I might just remind him that on page one it says that all the interventions considered have associated costs in terms of health and wellbeing and that policymakers will need to consider announcements and economic impacts and the associated harms alongside this epidemiological assessment.
‘And the advice that I have today is that if we do the regional approach that commended itself to the House, and indeed to the right honourable gentleman (Keir Starmer) on Monday, we can bring down the arc and we can bring down the virus.’
The row represents the first time the two leaders of the UK’s two largest political parties have publicly disagreed on how the country should be tackling the soaring rate of infection.
Labour have until this point backed the Government on policies aimed at bringing down the number of new cases including the 10pm curfew and the rule of six.
But Sir Keir moved away from this approach yesterday when he held a press conference in which he called for a national circuit break lockdown to avoid ‘sleepwalking into a long and bleak winter’.
He said schools would not need to close but household mixing would be restricted, pubs, bars and restaurants would be shut and non-essential offices forced to close.
Accusing the Prime Minister of being ‘behind the curve again’, Sir Keir said leaders in hard hit areas like Bolton back his plan over Mr Johnson’s.
He said a circuit-break is in the ‘national interest’, adding: ‘We are at a tipping point, time is running out.’
Responding to reports in the Telegraph that said the chances of the Prime Minister backing a circuit-break in the next two weeks ‘are about 80%,’ Sir Keir asked him ‘why he doesn’t do it now?’
The PM replied: ‘I rule out nothing, of course, in combating the virus but we’re going to do it with the local, regional approach that can drive down and will drive down the virus if it is properly implemented.’
Mr Johnson said his plan will help the country to ‘avoid the misery of another national lockdown.’
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