What national lockdown options are the Cabinet likely to consider?

The Prime Minister is rumoured to be preparing to unveil further national lockdown measures on Tuesday.

Coronavirus options
Coronavirus options

The Prime Minister is due to address MPs on Tuesday amid reports that he is planning to announce fresh national lockdown measures in a bid to arrest the second wave of coronavirus in the UK.

The Government has already imposed a host of local lockdown stipulations on large stretches of England, including the North East, the majority of Lancashire, and parts of the Midlands, as part of attempts to control outbreaks.

But chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whtty, in a press briefing on Monday, warned that the virus’s re-emergence was no longer being confined to individual areas.

“What we’re seeing is a rate of increase across the great majority of the country,” he said.

Downing Street confirmed Boris Johnson was briefed by experts, including Prof Whitty, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief economic adviser at the Treasury Clare Lombardelli, on the weekend about the situation in England and the measures he could take to curtail the case numbers.

Mr Johnson, before addressing the Commons, will meet with his Cabinet to discuss the options available to them.

Here are some of the options the Prime Minister could raise with them:

– Ban meet-ups between households

A measure replicated across the recently-announced local lockdowns in England was a ban on two or more households socialising together in both indoor or outdoor environments.

Prof Whitty, during Monday’s Number 10 press briefing, hinted that broader curbs on meet-ups could be required if the horror scenario of as many as 50,000 new Covid cases per day in mid-October is to be avoided.

His colleague Sir Patrick warned that such an outcome, leading to 200-plus daily deaths, was possible if action was not taken.

Prof Whitty told the nation that “we have to break unnecessary links between households because that is the way in which this virus is transmitted”.

The Government only last week brought in the so-called “rule of six”, making it unlawful for groups of more than six who are not already in a single household to mix, with fines available for those found disobeying the regulation.

But during a visit to Oxfordshire on Friday, Mr Johnson said he had been wondering “whether we need to go further than the ‘rule of six’”, fuelling the rumours that more stringent socialising restrictions are being prepared.

– Pubs and restaurants told to shut

The hospitality trade was given a much-needed boost when pubs, cafes and restaurants were permitted to reopen on July 4 on what was dubbed “super Saturday” after being told to lock their doors indefinitely in March.

But Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he could not rule out England’s pubs being forced to close this weekend as part of the measures being looked at by ministers.

Coronavirus Hancock
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Speaking on ITV’s This Morning, Mr Hancock said his answer on pubs closing was “not a no, and it’s not a yes”.

As part of the local restrictions in places such as Sunderland and Birmingham, pubs and other venues have been given a curfew of 10pm – a possible signal of what could be to come for the rest of the country.

– A “circuit-breaker” lockdown

The papers have been full of speculation about a two-week lockdown whereby the hospitality sector would shut up, socialising would be halted and travel would be advised in only essential circumstances.

Some reports have suggested the so-called “circuit-breaker” could coincide with the October half-term in a bid to limit the amount of time children spend out of school, with many pupils having lost as much as four months out of their education after the spring lockdown.

The Prime Minister’s looming appearance in the Commons, however, seems to imply that any new restrictions will come sooner than next month.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, for example, has warned Scotland that they should brace for additional measures as soon as Wednesday.

– A full national lockdown

The response to the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in March was to impose a full-scale national lockdown, banning leaving the house for anything bar exercise or other limited reasons, such as caring for another person.

Ministers would have this at their disposal again as a tool for dealing with the second wave but comments made by both Mr Johnson and Prof Whitty indicate the Government does not want to go to such lengths.

Mr Johnson, speaking to broadcasters on Friday, said: “What I don’t want to do is go into a second national lockdown of the kind we had in March, April – I don’t want to do that again.”

During Monday’s press briefing, Prof Whitty said there was a “very difficult balance” to be struck between preventing the NHS from being “overwhelmed by a huge spike” in cases and a second economic lockdown that could cause unemployment, poverty and deprivation, outcomes which would bring their own “long-term health effects”.

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