This is what a 'circuit breaker' lockdown could look like - and its chances of success

Monday, 21st September 2020, 12:52 pm
Updated Monday, 21st September 2020, 12:52 pm
Boris Johnson is expected to make an announcement on stricter measures (Photos: Getty)
Boris Johnson is expected to make an announcement on stricter measures (Photos: Getty)

Reports suggest that the government may introduce a "circuit breaker" lockdown as soon as Tuesday in an effort to control the spread of coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted last week that the UK is now seeing a "second wave" of coronavirus coming in, with localised lockdown measures now affecting around 13.5 million people - over one in five of the UK's population.

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And earlier today, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned that “if we do too little, this virus will go out of control.”

Though the government has dismissed the prospect of a second national lockdown, it's rumoured that they may implement a national two-week "circuit breaker" lockdown in an effort to stem the growing spread of infections.

What is a 'circuit breaker' lockdown?

A "circuit breaker" lockdown would likely involve a two-week long national lockdown in which certain businesses would be regulated or closed.

Pubs, restaurants, bars and leisure facilities would be closed or regulated, while socialising between households would be banned.

Travel would be limited to essential purposes only.

A circuit breaker lockdown could see cafes, restaurants and bars closed or operating under reduced hours. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Some reports suggest that two-week long circuit breaker measures could be introduced sporadically by the government over the next six months in order to control spikes in infections.

Would it work?

The idea of a circuit breaker lockdown is to reduce the spread of new infections without needing to go into a second full lockdown.

Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the nationwide lockdown being imposed in March, suggested that such a "short sharp shock" is what's needed if the UK is to avoid the spiralling case scenario being seen in countries like Spain and France.

Circuit breaker measures were introduced in Singapore in April in an effort to tackle coronavirus - and the rules have been credited with saving thousands of lives in the country.

However, experts are divided as to whether a circuit breaker response will be effective in the UK.

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said that the "optimistic" aim of a circuit breaker lockdown would be to drive down the coronavirus R number and reduce the incidence of new infections by as much as a half for a short period.

He warned, however, that this approach may only defer the challenges of the pandemic.

Analysing the concept of a “circuit breaker”, Prof Woolhouse said: “The aim is to use additional social distancing measures to reduce the R number well below one for a short period; two weeks has been suggested.

“That would drive down the incidence of new infections, perhaps by as much as half if R fell to a similar value as during lockdown, though that may be optimistic.

“Lower incidence means lower risk of infection and, for the minority most vulnerable to Covid-19, lower risk of severe illness, although the latter benefit might not be seen until after the circuit breaker was over.”