Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt faced fury yesterday after backing calls to plunge Britain once again into lockdown.
Mr Hunt joined Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in supporting a national ‘circuit breaker’ in which the country would be told to stay at home for two or three weeks over half term with pubs, shops, restaurants, gyms and hairdressers forced to close.
With hundreds of thousands of jobs already at risk due to tougher restrictions, critics warned such a move would be the ‘final nail in the coffin’ of the hospitality industry.
Others warned that any new lockdown – as with the initial three-month closure, which was initially predicted to last just three weeks – would go on for much longer, producing ‘catastrophic’ repercussions.
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured) faced fury yesterday after backing calls to plunge Britain once again into lockdown
Asked about the possibility of a circuit breaker, Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’ve always thought that it’s better to do things quickly and decisively than to wait until the virus has grown, so I have a lot of sympathy with that.’
While trade bodies and leading figures within Mr Hunt’s party reacted with dismay, some MPs interpreted it as the first move in a cynical plan to topple old rival Boris Johnson and position himself as a future leadership contender.
‘Jeremy’s sensing Boris is in a difficult position, and I think he’s sticking the boot in,’ said one senior Tory MP.
‘He lost the leadership election but he has been constantly niggling away at the edges. He’s doing the same as Starmer – gambling we do go into a lockdown, in which case he’ll say, ‘Well, I told you so’.’
£360 fine for kissing
A couple in Milan have been fined 400 euros (£360) for kissing in the street because removing their masks breached coronavirus restrictions.
After kissing on their way to a restaurant, the engaged couple said they found themselves surrounded by four police officers.
Local reports said the couple – a 40-year-old Italian man and a Polish woman – had been engaged for two-and-a-half years.
In Italy, there is no obligation for people who live together to wear a mask when in public.
The fine was issued to the couple after they were unable to prove to officers that they lived at the same address.
‘If Jeremy’s going to make a comeback, this is how to do it,’ said another, adding that if Mr Hunt was proved right about a lockdown, it might lead to him succeeding beleaguered Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
‘He could go back to his old department, take the country through Covid, then go for the top job,’ the MP said.
The Prime Minister last week said he would try to avoid a second national shutdown ‘if at all possible’ but ‘cannot rule anything out’.
Instead, he has pressed ahead with a targeted battle plan of local restrictions with more than 28 million people now living under tighter measures. At midnight yesterday, Londoners were among those plunged into the Tier 2 alert bracket which bans different households from meeting indoors.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the trade body UK Hospitality, told The Mail on Sunday that a full lockdown over half term would be ‘catastrophic’ and the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for many bars, hotels and restaurants.
She added: ‘They have endured effectively two winters this year without income – a third would be unsustainable.
‘One in five has not reopened and a second lockdown would be a final nail in the coffin.
‘The October half term is now more important than Easter for staycations and domestic tourism. The industry is already forecast to lose half its income this year and we know tourism will be critical to our recovery next year.’
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative party leader, said: ‘The trouble with national circuit breaker lockdowns is they go on much longer than you think. We were promised a three-week lockdown in March and it ended up being a three-month lockdown.
‘Businesses are teetering on the edge and if we go to a full national lockdown where you shut everything down, many businesses that just survived the last lockdown will go. That will have devastating effects on the economy and on people’s health.
‘At the very least, we need to give the changes already going on a chance to work. We cannot keep opening up and locking down.
‘The devastation this time would be total. All these politicians and scientists have completely abandoned the economy. They think the economy is not important.
‘My colleagues in Government talk as if we were suffering from the plague. The rate of death is tiny at the moment.’
While trade bodies and leading figures within Mr Hunt’s party reacted with dismay, some MPs interpreted it as the first move in a cynical plan to topple old rival Boris Johnson and position himself as a future leadership contender
Mr Hunt’s intervention followed remarks by scientific adviser Sir John Bell, who said he sees ‘very little way of getting on top of this without some kind of a circuit breaker because the numbers are actually pretty eye-watering’.
But Professor Paul Hunter, who advises the World Health Organisation, said a two- to three-week lockdown would not be nearly enough to bring the virus back under control.
Nothing short of a protracted second lockdown, lasting at least two months, would have a material impact on the course of the virus, he argued.
Professor Hunter said a ‘circuit breaker’ would retard the virus, but because there is a delay in new infections being reported in official statistics ‘you would not actually see a material chance in the direction of the epidemic for two weeks’ after it was brought in.
He said the ‘cruel maths of infection’ – in which cases tend to rise two to three times faster than they fall – means once a circuit breaker ends, the virus would quickly surge back up again.
As a result, he added, to keep viral rates low, a circuit breaker would have to be imposed every month until a vaccine became available or herd immunity was reached.
Mr Hunt also called for an end to the ‘public war of words’ between Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester Mayor who is resisting tighter curbs, and Mr Johnson.
‘I think what’s more important right now is we stop this public war of words between local leaders and national leaders because in a pandemic the most important thing is a consistent message because you really have to have compliance with the very, very important public health messages about social distancing,’ he added.
Mr Johnson said the situation in Greater Manchester was ‘grave’ last Friday as he pressured Mr Burnham to agree to new rules, but the region’s political leaders are continuing to resist the pressure.
Welcome to London… Once the beating heart of Britain’s economy
Under a blanket of grey cloud, the near-deserted skyscrapers of London financial district Canary Wharf offered a distinctly gloomy outlook yesterday.
In a scene almost unimaginable at the start of the year, a vivid sign, pictured left, warned that the local Covid alert level was ‘high’ and advised passers-by that it was now illegal to ‘meet people socially anywhere indoors’.
Canary Wharf is home to the headquarters of banking and finance powerhouses such as HSBC, Barclays and JP Morgan. But almost all of the 120,000 workers who once filled the office floors and flooded into local cafes and bars now work from home.
London’s nine million inhabitants entered tighter Tier 2 restrictions yesterday after midnight, which ban people from separate households mixing indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.
Crowds descended on the city centre on Friday for a final drinking session before the new rules came in. Police were on the lookout for ‘dangerous and reckless’ Covid breaches as people left pubs after the 10pm curfew.
Although Londoners will still be able to meet members of other households in groups of up to six in beer gardens, the prospect is less likely to appeal as winter approaches.