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Back to the future: Britain facing second Covid lockdown

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, left, and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, left, and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

With hundreds of new coronavirus cases a day in Scotland and thousands in England, a second national lockdown now looks inevitable.

The UK’s top scientists, Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, laid the groundwork for a reimposition of restrictions at a rather ominous press conference on Monday morning.

The professors warned if action is not taken, Britain would see infections explode to an estimated 50,000 a day by late October, which would translate to 200-plus deaths per day by November.

In short, the UK is now back to where it was in April. If we want to avoid a repeat of the first wave, things will have to change.

Sir Patrick Vallance, left, and Professor Chris Whitty.

The first change came at the press conference. No longer is it smiles and bluster about eating out to help out, no more jazzy Downing Street lecterns, usually yellow or blue and adorned with the latest government slogan, and no boosterish Boris. Instead we had a grey backdrop with even greyer messages.

Professor Whitty told the nation “we should see this as a six-month problem” and he warned those not paying attention to guidelines, “you cannot take your own risk. You are taking a risk on behalf of everyone else. We have to see this collectively.”

And giving the strongest hint yet that restrictions on socialising are returning, Prof Whitty said: “We have to break unnecessary links between households.”

Unlike previous press conferences, there was no optimistic government minister to balance the stark warnings from the experts and the press were not invited to question whether a new lockdown was coming.

Number 10 told journalists the conference was needed to “spell out to the public the potential scenario in what is likely to be a challenging winter”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The messages from Whitty and Vallance also served to set the scene for Boris Johnson’s Commons speech tomorrow, in which he is likely to announce the need for a return to tighter Covid measures.

Ahead of that speech, Mr Johnson is to hold a conference call with devolved leaders on Monday afternoon. The call is his first in months and is again a sure sign of rule changes.

What we’re yet to hear is how the Treasury intends to respond. There has been some suggestion loan schemes will be extended, but if people are to be asked to again stay at home then the furlough scheme, due to end in October, will also have to remain.

As has been the case throughout the Covid crisis, expect a series of headline announcements tomorrow and a drip, drip, drip of detail in the weeks ahead.

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