Coronavirus: SAGE recommended ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to ministers three weeks ago

A “circuit breaker” lockdown was recommended to the government by scientists three weeks ago, newly published documents have revealed.

Minutes from a 21 September meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), published on the government website on Monday night, showed that a short period of lockdown was at the top of a list of measures to be considered for “immediate introduction”.

SAGE, which has provided scientific and technical advice to ministers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, warned that “not acting now” would result in a “very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences” amid a rising number of coronavirus cases.

The group warned that “a package of interventions will need to be adopted to prevent this exponential rise in cases” and “single interventions are unlikely to be able to reduce incidence”.

At the top of a shortlist of “non-pharmaceutical interventions that should be considered for immediate introduction” was a “circuit-breaker”.

The SAGE minutes described this as a “short period of lockdown to return incidence to low levels”.

Other measures SAGE recommended for consideration included advice to work from home for all those that can, banning people mixing with other households, the closure of all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gyms and hairdressers, and for all university and college teaching to be online unless essential.

The minutes also stated that the NHS Test and Trace system was “having a marginal impact on transmission at the moment”.

“Unless the system grows at the same rate as the epidemic, and support is given to people to enable them to adhere to self-isolation, it is likely that the impact of Test, Trace and Isolate will further decline in the future,” the document added.

The SAGE meeting on 21 September came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock had described a “circuit-breaker” lockdown as the “last line of defence” against rising COVID-19 infections.

On 22 September, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants in England, while he also told people to work from home again if they can.

On Monday, Mr Johnson confirmed he was “simplifying” local lockdown restrictions with a new three-tier system.

However, he stressed he did not believe another national lockdown would be the “right course”.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth accused the government of having ignored experts and criticised the publication of the SAGE minutes after Mr Johnson had faced questions at a Downing Street news conference.

“The revelations in this paper are alarming,” he said.

“The fact that the prime minister chose to publish it an hour after his press conference is yet more evidence that he is treating the British people with contempt.

“Labour warned earlier that the restrictions announced by the prime minister may not be sufficient.

“The government now needs to urgently explain why it ignored its own scientists and what it will be doing to get control of the virus.”

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