Why England is going back into lockdown

1 November 2020

6:54 AM

1 November 2020

6:54 AM

I’m afraid no responsible Prime Minister can ignore the message of those figures. When I told you two weeks ago that we were pursuing a local and a regional approach to tackling this virus, I believed then – and I still believe passionately – that was the right thing to do. Because we know the cost of these restrictions, the damage they do, the impact on jobs and on livelihoods and on people’s mental health. No one wants to be imposing these kind of measures anywhere. We didn’t want to be shutting businesses, pubs, restaurants in one part of the country where incidence is very low when the vast bulk of the infections were taking place elsewhere. And our hope was that by strong local action, strong local leadership, we could get the rates of infection down where the disease was surging and address the problem thereby across the whole country. I want to thank the millions of people who have been putting up with these restrictions in their areas for so long. I want to thank the local leaders who stepped up, and local communities.

Because, as you can see from some of those charts, the R has been kept lower than it would otherwise have been. And there are signs that your work has been paying off and we will continue – as far as we possibly can – to adopt a pragmatic and a local approach in the months ahead.

But, as we’ve also seen from those charts, we’ve got to be humble in the face of nature. And in this country, alas, as across much of Europe, the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst case scenario of our scientific advisers. Whose models, as you’ve just seen, now suggest that, unless we act, we could see deaths in this country running at several thousands a day, a peak of mortality, alas, bigger than the one we saw in April.

And as you’ve just seen, even in the south west, where incidence was so low and is still so low, it’s now clear that the current projections mean that hospitals will run out of capacity in just a couple of weeks unless we act.

And let me explain why the overrunning of the NHS would be a medical and a moral disaster beyond the raw loss of life. Because the huge exponential growth in the number of patients, by no means all of them elderly, by the way, would mean that doctors and patients would be forced to choose which patients to treat: who would get oxygen, and who wouldn’t. Who would live, and who would die. And doctors and nurses would be forced to choose between saving Covid patients and non-Covid patients. And the sheer weight of Covid demand would mean depriving tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands if not millions of non-Covid patients of the care they need. It’s crucial to grasp this: that the general threat to public health comes not from focusing too much on Covid, but from not focusing enough, from failing to get it under control.

And if we let the lines on those graphs grow in the way that they would, in the way that they’re projected to grow, then the risk is that for the first time in our lives, the NHS will not be there for us and for our families. And even if I could now double capacity overnight, and obviously I’m proud that we have massively increased capacity, we do have the Nightingales, we’ve got 13,000 more nurses now than we had last year, we’ve got many more doctors, but it still would not be enough. Because the virus is doubling faster than we can conceivably add capacity. And so now is the time to take action because there is no alternative.

And from Thursday, until the start of December, you must stay at home. You may only leave home for specific reasons, including for education, for work – if you cannot work from home – for exercise and recreation outdoors with your household or on your own, with one person from another household. For medical reasons, appointments and to escape injury or harm. To shop for essentials, and to provide care to vulnerable people as a volunteer.

I’m afraid non-essential shops, leisure and entertainment venues will all be closed. Though click and collect services can continue and essential shops will remain open so there’s no need to stock up.

Pubs, bars, restaurants must close except for takeaway and delivery services. Workplaces should stay open where people can’t work from home, for example in the construction and manufacturing sectors. Single adult households can still form exclusive support bubbles with one other household and children will still be able to move between homes if their parents are separated.

If you are clinically vulnerable or over the age of 60, you should be especially careful to follow the rules and minimise your contacts with others.

I know how tough shielding was and we will not ask people to shield again in the same way. But we are asking those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to minimise their contact with others and not to go to work if they are unable to work from home.

I am under no illusions about how difficult this will be for businesses which have already had to endure such hardship this year and I am truly, truly sorry for that. And that’s why we are going to extend the furlough system through November. The furlough scheme was a success in the spring, it supported people and businesses in a critical time. We will not end it. We will extend furlough until December.

There will be some differences compared to March: these measures will be time-limited, starting Thursday 5 November, they will end Wednesday 2 December when we’ll seek to ease restrictions, going back into the tiered system on a local and a regional basis according to the latest data and trends.

Christmas is going to be different this year, perhaps very different. But it’s my sincere hope and belief that by taking tough action now, we can allow families across the country to be together. My priority, our priority, remains keeping people in education – so childcare, early years settings, schools, colleges and universities will all remain open. Our senior clinicians still advise that school is the best place for children to be. We cannot let this virus damage our children’s futures even more than it has already and I urge parents to continue taking their children to school and I’m extremely grateful to teachers across the country for their dedication in enabling schools to remain open.

And it’s vital that we keep provision for non-healthcare groups going. So, please, this is really important: unless your clinicians tell you otherwise, you should continue to use the NHS, get your scans, turn up for your appointments and pick up your treatments. If at all possible, we want you to continue to access these services now and through the winter. Indeed, it’s only by taking this action that we can protect the NHS for you.

On Monday, I’m going to set out our plans to Parliament. On Wednesday, Parliament will debate and vote on these measures, which, if passed, will, as I say, come into force on Thursday.

We’ve updated the devolved administrations on the actions we’re taking in England and stand ready to work with them on plans for Christmas and beyond. We should remember that we’re not alone in what we’re going through. Our friends in Belgium, France and Germany have taken very similar action.

And, so, as we come together now to fight this second wave, I want to say something about the way ahead. Because people will reasonably ask: when will this all end. And, as I’ve said before, I am optimistic that this will feel very different and better by the spring. It’s not just that we have ever-better medicines and therapies and the realistic hope of a vaccine in the first quarter of next year, we now have the immediate prospect of using many millions of cheap, reliable and above all rapid turnaround tests. Tests that you can use yourself to tell you whether or not you’re infectious and get the result within ten to 15 minutes. And we know from trials across the country in schools and hospitals that we can use these tests not just to locate infectious people but to drive down the disease. And so, over the next few days and weeks, we’ve planned a steady but massive expansion in the deployment of these quick turnaround tests, applying them in an ever-growing number of situations, from helping women to have their partners with them in labour wards when they’re giving birth, to testing whole towns and even whole cities. The army has been brought in to work on the logistics and the programme will begin in a matter of days. Working with local communities, local government, public health directors, organisations of all kinds to help people discover whether or not they’re infectious and then immediately to get them to self-isolate and stop the spread of the disease.

And I can tell you tonight that the scientists may be pretty uniformly gloomy about the immediate options that we face, but they are unanimously optimistic about the medium and the long term future. We will get through this, but we must act now to contain this autumn surge. We’re not going back to the full scale lockdown of March and April. The measures that I have outlined are less prohibitive, less restrictive. But, I’m afraid, from Thursday, the basic message is the same: stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

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