Keir Starmer has called on the government to implement a ‘circuit break’ lockdown following reports that ministers ignored advice from experts to implement the nationwide measure to combat the spread of the virus.
Addressing the public this afternoon in his first televised press conference as Labour leader, he responded to Boris Johnson’s own appearance on Monday and warned that the country could “sleep walk into a long and bleak winter” without action.
Commenting on the increasing number of Covid-19 cases, Starmer said: “Three things are now clear: the 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.
“The SAGE minutes from 21 September – published yesterday – underline this. They warn that: “A package” of “stringent interventions” is now urgently needed.”
Starmer’s briefing followed news that government ministers ignored advice from SAGE (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) to impose a two-week circuit break national lockdown to stop the spread of the virus.
The Labour leader told viewers today: “There is no longer time to give this Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. The government’s plan simply isn’t working. Another course is needed.
“That’s why I’m calling for a two-to-three week circuit break in England. In line with SAGE’s recommendation. A temporary set of clear and effective restriction designed to get R rate down and reverse the trends of infections.”
He told the public that the measure “will have to be accompanied by extensive support for jobs, businesses and for our local economies” to protect livelihoods. He added: “Every job matters, and every business matters.”
Starmer explained that if timed correctly the circuit break could take place over the school half term to minimise disruption, but said that it would not require the closure of schools.
The Labour leader outlined the practical implications of the proposal. He said the circuit break would mean “only essential work and travel” and that everyone who can work from home would be required to do so.
He added: “Non-essential offices should be closed. Household mixing should be restricted to one household except for those who’ve formed support ‘bubbles’. And all pubs, bars and restaurants would be closed for two-to-three weeks.”
Sir Keir Starmer calls for a three-week "circuit break in England” with non-essential offices and all pubs, bars and restaurants closed
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) October 13, 2020
Commenting on the proposal put forward by Starmer this afternoon, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government’s job support package isn’t ready for this renewed public health emergency.
“In the wake of tightening restrictions this week and the prospect of a circuit-breaker national lockdown, more help is needed to save jobs and prevent unnecessary hardship.
“Where businesses are forced to close, workers should get at least 80% of their wages through the job support scheme. Firms which are hit by stricter local restrictions and low demand but can stay open need a more generous short-time working scheme, with significantly reduced employer contributions. And there must be additional support for the overlooked self-employed too.”
She added: “That’s the right response to new restrictions and business closures. Government must not force a choice between lives and livelihoods.”
SAGE warned the government three weeks ago that the country faced a “very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences” unless it took urgent action and implemented the national measure.
Official papers dated 21st September were released just one hour after the Prime Minister concluded his TV press briefing on Monday, documenting the stark warning from the government experts.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes backed the call from the Labour leader, describing it as “exactly what our country needs” and comparing what he called “decisive” action from Starmer to “dithering” from the Prime Minister.
Johnson had used his conference to unveil a new three-tiered lockdown approach, which has seen areas categorised into three levels of restrictions according to alert levels ‘medium’, ‘high’ and ‘very high’, to slow the spread of coronavirus.
But based on the current rate of growth in infections, SAGE has estimated that there could be as many as 3,000 hospital admissions per day by the end of the month, the same as during the peak of the pandemic in April.