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Labour leader demands two to three week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown over half-term

Written by on 13 October 2020

Sir Keir Starmer has called for a two to three week “circuit breaker” lockdown in England as he accused the government of having “lost control” of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Labour leader urged the prime minister to “act now” and “break the cycle” of COVID-19 infections, as he warned the country could soon “sleep walk into a long and bleak winter”.

He said a “temporary set of clear and effective restrictions” could be introduced to coincide with the October half-term in order to “minimise disruption”.

Sir Keir admitted a short lockdown would “require significant sacrifices across the country” and would mean people in England only being able to make essential travel and working from home if they can.

He also called for people to be banned from mixing with other households – apart from those who have formed a support bubble – and the shutting of all bars, pubs and restaurants.

But the Labour leader said it would not mean closing schools.

Speaking at a news conference, in response to Boris Johnson’s announcement of a new three-tier system for localised coronavirus restrictions, Sir Keir said there was “no longer time to give the prime minister the benefit of the doubt”.

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“The government’s plan simply isn’t working – another course is needed,” he added.

A short lockdown would “provide an opportunity to reset and to rectify some of the mistakes the government has made”, Sir Keir said, as he demanded ministers “get a grip on testing and hand over track and trace to local authorities”.

He urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to accompany a circuit breaker lockdown with “extensive support for jobs, businesses and our local economies”.

Sir Keir claimed Mr Johnson’s government has “not got a credible plan to slow infections, it has lost control of the virus, and it’s no longer following the scientific advice”.

He highlighted how documents published on Monday night revealed the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) had recommended a “circuit breaker” lockdown three weeks ago.

Minutes from a 21 September meeting of SAGE showed that a short period of lockdown was at the top of a list of measures to be considered for “immediate introduction”.

Attendees of the meeting, held on Zoom, included the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty.

The minutes of the meeting were published very shortly after the prime minister had faced questions at a Downing Street news conference on Monday on his new three-tier strategy for localised restrictions.

In a direct message to Mr Johnson, Sir Keir said at his own news conference on Tuesday: “You know that the science backs this approach.

“You know that the restrictions you’re introducing won’t be enough.

“You know that a circuit break is needed now to get this virus under control.

“You can’t keep delaying this and come back to the House of Commons every few weeks with another plan that won’t work.

“So act now, break the cycle. If you do you will have the votes in the House of Commons – I can assure you of that.

“You don’t need to balance the needs of your party against the national interest.”

Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey, a former shadow cabinet minister who was defeated by Sir Keir in the Labour leadership contest earlier this year, used a House of Commons debate on the new three-tier system earlier on Tuesday to call for a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown.

She called on government ministers to “actually follow the science and bring down transmission with a short national circuit breaker and a reform to test, track, trace and isolate”.

“Frankly, the pandemic strategy so far has been akin to throwing a glass of water on a chip pan fire and the government needs to change course today,” she added.

Fellow Labour backbencher Sam Tarry, MP for Ilford South, wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Tuesday to call for a circuit breaker lockdown across London.