Two week circuit breaker lockdowns 'do not work', say experts

Two week circuit breaker lockdowns ‘do not work’ say experts who point to Scotland’s extension of their coronavirus restrictions

  • Nicola Sturgeon introduced a circuit-breaker that impacted 3.4 million people
  • Later extended by a week before the proposal for tiered system was introduced
  • Experts warned the measures were ‘not really getting at the fundamentals’

Experts have warned that two-week circuit breaker lockdowns ‘do not work’ as they point to Scotland’s extension of their coronavirus restrictions.  

Nicola Sturgeon introduced a 16-day circuit-breaker which forced pubs and licensed restaurants in five health board areas across the central belt to close – impacting 3.4 million people – earlier this month.

The temporary measures, which had been set to end on October 25, also saw other venues across the country restricted to only operating indoors between 6am and 6pm and being banned from from serving alcohol inside. 

But Ms Sturgeon later announced a change of plan by extending the restrictions for a further week before introducing a new five-tier lockdown system on Thursday. 

The First Minister said that her mini-circuit breaker lockdown appeared to be working despite the drastic change of tack.

But experts have warned that the short-term nature of the clampdown meant it was too soon to say if it had an impact due to the incubation period of Covid-19 as the measures were ‘not really getting at the fundamentals’.

The warning comes after Scotland recorded 1,433 new coronavirus infections and 11 reported deaths in the past 24 hours.

Nicola Sturgeon introduced a 16-day circuit-breaker which forced pubs and licensed restaurants in five health board areas across the central belt to close – impacting 3.4 million people – earlier this month 

Hugh Pennington, Emeritus Professor of Microbiology at Aberdeen University, told The Telegraph: ‘There’s the old argument that if we hadn’t done (the mini-circuit breaker), cases would have gone up faster. But that’s a guess, and the figures haven’t come tumbling down.

‘They were always going to have difficulty in knowing how effective it was because the figures wouldn’t have come through to really give them an indication as to whether it was having any effect at all.’

He also criticised Ms Sturgeon for claiming the restrictions would only be in place for 16 days and claimed that this was projected as a ‘short-term measure’ to avoid major backlash. 

‘It’s got to be statistically significant, it’s the figures coming down that they’re looking for. To expect that would happen within 16 days was unrealistic. At a guess, I’d say her reason for saying that was so she could say “I’m going to make things tough, but it’s only for 16 days”, to get people to buy into it. 

‘If you close the pubs, you’re going to stop pub outbreaks. You’re addressing little bits of the transmission route, but not really getting at the fundamentals, which is making sure people who have the virus, and their contacts, are kept away from everybody else by self-isolating.’ 

Nicola Sturgeon laid out plans for a new 0-4 tier lockdown today. Here is how it would work. 

Level 0 

As close to normal as possible. Broadly in line with the situation in Scotland in August when the virus was suppressed but still around. 

At this level people would be able to meet indoors with eight people from three households and most businesses would be open safety measures in place.

Level 1 

Household meetings would reduce to six people from two households but there would still be a reasonable degree of normality overall.

Level 2 

Restrictions broadly similar to those currently in place currently outside Scotland’s central belt. It includes  limitations on hospitality and no gatherings inside people’s homes.

Level 3

Broadly similar to the tougher restrictions which currently apply across the central belt  – including Glasgow and Edinburgh, with much of hospitality being closed completely. But restaurants would be able to be open ‘at least partially’.

Both Levels 2 and 3 are intended to apply for relatively short periods of time to bring transmission under control.

Level 4

This would kick in when ‘transmission rates are, or are threatening to become, very high with corresponding pressure on the NHS and perhaps the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed’.

Closer to a full lockdown, with non-essential shops closed. But six people from up two households could still meet outdoors, there would be no limit on outdoor exercise for individuals, manufacturing and construction businesses would stay open with safety measures in place.

Ms Sturgeon added: ‘We do not envisage returning to a situation as severe as the first lockdown imposed back in late March.’  

Ms Sturgeon’s scientific advisers themselves warned on Thursday it was ‘too early to detect any impact on transmission from the restrictions introduced on October 9’. 

But she insisted during a press conference on Thursday that Scotland was making ‘progress in tackling the virus’.

Latest figures suggest that the rate of spread across Scotland has indeed slowed in recent weeks across all but two health boards – Borders and the Western Isles –since the new measures were introduced.

But this is has largely been attributed to the ban on household mixing rather than the closure of the hospitality industry.  

In the week leading up to Friday October 9, the average rise in the number of cases across the country was 52 per cent up on the previous week. 

In the week leading up to Friday, October 16, there was an increase of 29 per cent on the previous week.

And on Thursday, this was up by just 7 per cent on the previous week.  

But the data showed that the pandemic was far from being ‘under control’ as test positivity continues to rise along with the number of deaths.

The infection numbers have also remained relatively static in the 20-39 age range despite infringements on social gatherings.    

The First Minister’s newly-suggested tiered approach means those in the highest band would see the shutters come down once again on the Scottish high street while trying to keep some other businesses going.

Outlining the new Level 0 – 4 system live on television she held out an olive branch to hospitality businesses who blasted the harsh new restrictions, which would place some level of barre on trading at all levels.

She said while she would listen to arguments about trying to keep some pubs and restaurants open at higher tiers but she would not promise to make changes.

She warned ‘it is possible that the whole country could be placed in the same level’ and refused to rule out some parts of the country immediately being placed in Level 4. 

Under the new 0-4 tier system, the restrictions currently in place in the central belt, where pubs are closed, would be Level Three. Under Level Four even non-essential retail shops would close again. But Ms Sturgeon pledged to keep schools open.

Ms Sturgeon said Level One and Level Two are the closest to normal the country can be without effective treatment or a vaccine, while the highest grade would be more similar to a full lockdown. 

The Scottish Retail Consortium said closing non-essential shops in Level Four – the highest tier – will do little to reduce coronavirus rates.

The First Minister gave details of the scheme – which is subject to being ratified by the Scottish parliament next week – despite a furious backlash from restaurants and retailers over the prospect of heightened restrictions staying in place indefinitely. 

It is thought that the new restrictions will see two-thirds of  hospitality businesses close in the coming months and put more than 50 per cent of jobs at risk. 

Industry bodies have now launched a legal bid aimed at overturning the proposals following a judicial review. 

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