Is a second lockdown coming in England and the rest of the UK?

The Government appears divided over whether or not to bring in a new lockdown.

Home Secretary Priti Patel was asked about a national lockdown this week and said: “Well I think at this stage of course we can rule nothing out because we are a Government that is focused on making sure that we stop the spread of this virus and also (that) we protect public health.

“So we have been using, and we are using and we will continue to use, every single means available to us to do exactly that.”

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You can see why she's concerned, with hospital admissions rising.

Salisbury Journal: Covid-19 patient numbers in hospitals in England are rising again (PA Graphic)Covid-19 patient numbers in hospitals in England are rising again (PA Graphic)

But Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the Government will “try everything in our power” to avoid a “blanket national lockdown”.

He said the Government’s “very firm view” is that a short national circuit-breaker lockdown would be the wrong approach.

In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, regional Governments are taking their own approaches.

Whatever happens next, there are ways in which it will be different to the first lockdown.

Here are 9 things which could be different if there was a new national lockdown, compared to the first one announced by Boris Johnson in March:

1 – How long it lasts

Wales is currently going through a ‘firebreak’ lockdown, while Labour leader Keir Starmer – following the advice of scientists to the Government, which it ignored – called for a ‘circuit breaker’.

The idea would be to have short, sharp lockdowns for everyone in the country, hopefully slowing the virus down everywhere.

Sage, the scientific advisory group for emergencies, apparently told the Government to try a short two week lockdown back in September.

Starmer’s suggestion was to have it over half term, so children would only miss one week of school.

Locking down fast and hard was proposed to stop the virus’ spread before it got too bad.

Some experts feel the Government, in trying to avoid the pain of a national lockdown and going with its local system of Tiers, has missed the boat.

Clearly, the desire is to have a shorter lockdown than last time, if one becomes necessary.

But by delaying, it may be the Government has to have a longer lockdown than it would like.

On the other hand, why should rural areas where the virus is not rapidly spreading have to face lockdown, because of high numbers of cases in cities?

The counter argument to that is that the virus is spreading everywhere – Wiltshire saw its two biggest days for newly recorded coronavirus cases recently (92 on October 21 and 88 on October 26 – the previous high in the county was 69 on May 11).

Salisbury Journal: Coronavirus cases in Wiltshire since March, shown as daily totals on a Government graphCoronavirus cases in Wiltshire since March, shown as daily totals on a Government graph

Part of that is because of improved testing, of course, but also the virus has returned and is transferring from person to person everywhere, rural or urban.

Salisbury District Hospital warned this week the virus is “growing” and it has seen a rise in patients with Covid symptoms. It also had at least six Covid-19 positive patients, as of Wednesday (October 28).

2 – Schools could stay open

Children learning from home was a big part of the first lockdown.

Since then, there’s been a lot of debate about whether the harm to youngsters is greater by taking them away from education, or by putting them at risk of catching or spreading Covid.

Most young people are not considered ‘at risk’ from the virus.

But stories of children dying were there in the first wave, so there is no guarantee of anyone being completely safe – so much remains unknown about the disease.

And would having children in school, with everyone else at home on shutdown, just give the virus a way to keep spreading?

The way the Government seems to be leaning, it could be that socially distanced learning, with children split into bubbles, continues during a second lockdown.

Only time will tell.

3 – No more furlough?

Furlough was a lifeline for many workers during the first lockdown.

From November, the Job Support Scheme replaces furlough.

Many workers were on 80 per cent of their usual wage during furlough. The Government reduced its support to 60 per cent in October.

Under the new scheme, workers will be paid 67 per cent of their wages - up to a maximum of £2,083.33 a month.

You must be off work for a minimum of seven days to be eligible. Your employer doesn't have to pay towards your salary.

This applies for those under the toughest tiers of local restrictions at the moment.

But the Government would face pressure to expand it or make it applicable everywhere if there was a new national stay-at-home order.

4 – More testing

Have you heard of Operation Moonshot yet?

It’s the name Boris Johnson has given to a mass testing programme, which could see 10 per cent of the population tested for coronavirus each week.

New types of test, with some involving quickly testing saliva within ten minutes, could speed things up.

But Operation Moonshot is still largely an idea.

It is true though that testing capacity is also much higher than it was early on in the crisis – but the Government’s decision to stop tracking and tracing at one point did not help.

The good news is, even as the virus spreads, that health experts have a better idea of where it is because of the greater number of tests. That’s why the Government is able to try local lockdowns.

Hopefully it also means if you’re concerned for yourself or a family member, you can get a test as the winter approaches and people try to tell the difference between Covid and a cold.

But there remain issues with the system, and apparent failings with the tracing of close contacts – crucial to get people to self-isolate and slow the spread.

If Lockdown 2 happens though, we can all expect to hear more about hotspot areas getting tested, perhaps more than we did first time round.

5 – More realistic hope of a vaccine

A successful vaccine might be the only long term way out of this crisis.

Back when the UK first locked down, work on a vaccine was only just getting started.

Scientists have started from knowing nothing about the virus at the beginning of 2020, to everyone in the global scientific community with any relevant know-how working towards finding a vaccine.

Usually, vaccines take years to develop, test to make sure they are safe and produce, as well as distribute to all those who need it.

The University of Oxford, along with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, has been at the forefront of one of the efforts to find a working vaccine.

Salisbury Journal: Educated parents 'concerned about MMR vaccine'

But there are other projects reportedly getting closer, too.

Human trials are now underway for some of the more likely candidates.

That’s led to national newspaper frontpages about the possibility of a vaccine by Christmas.

Calm down though – any new vaccine would probably go to NHS workers and others in the firing line first.

Then it would take time to be distributed through the population, with vulnerable categories of people – such as those with underlying health conditions and the elderly – given priority.

It’s still some way off but it’s a lot closer than it was during the March lockdown.

Some critics of the Government say their local lockdown strategy, with tiers, 1, 2 and 3, is simply to buy time until a vaccine is ready.

If it’s not ready at some point in the first half of 2021 at least, delaying tactics may look misguided with hindsight.

6 – Masks

Masks became mandatory on July 24, as we were emerging into the summer and something a bit closer to normality.

After much debate about bringing in the mask rules, the Government eventually delivered the clear message that wearing them could offer you, and others around you, protection from the virus’ spread.

A combination of everyone wearing masks, and social distancing markers in shops and town centres, should hopefully make it more difficult for the virus to spread.

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The flip side to that is this will be Britain’s first test against coronavirus in winter – when more of us will naturally be indoors to keep warm.

Clearly, with Covid escalating and infecting more and more people, masks and social distancing aren’t doing enough at the moment.

But it is a tool in the fight against the virus we weren’t using during the last lockdown in the spring.

7 – Better protection for care homes?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised to put a “protective ring” around care homes as concerns grew about coronavirus deaths earlier this year.

Whatever the Government’s intentions, it did not succeed in offering care homes a great deal of protection.

Later, it emerged some coronavirus patients in hospital were discharged back into care homes, without a test to make sure they were negative.

This was changed on April 15 in Government guidelines, but by then, it’s thought these patients may have been a large part of the reason for the virus crisis in the care sector.

A University of Stirling study, released in August, shows care homes in England suffered particularly badly from excess deaths.

Of all deaths registered as Covid-19 related in the UK, 17,127 (31%) occurred within care homes and at least 21,775 (40%) were accounted for by care home residents, the study says.

In Scotland, 47 percent of deaths attributed to Covid-19 occurred in care homes. This compares with 42 percent in Northern Ireland, 30 percent in England and 28 percent in Wales.

While Scotland had the highest proportion of care homes affected by Covid-19 and the highest proportion of care home deaths attributed to the virus, it had a lower proportion of excess deaths – those above the expected average for the time of year - in these facilities compared to England and Wales.

The conclusions are grim but for any new lockdown, there are lessons to be learned about properly protecting the vulnerable people in care homes.

8 – New types of treatment

US President Donald Trump made a big deal of the fact that he received cutting edge treatments when he caught Covid-19.

Clearly, the President of the world’s most powerful country will have access to healthcare not available everywhere on the NHS.

Salisbury Journal: Donald TrumpDonald Trump

But there certainly have been advances in treatment since the first lockdown, when medics were struggling to adapt and look after people falling seriously ill from the effects of a strange and little known virus.

The NHS now has simple tips on its website for treating the virus at home – helpful for most people who get it, who will have a mild but uncomfortable illness.

More crucially though, doctors also have a better understanding of how to help people sick with Covid-19 in hospital.

The UK's Recovery trial showed the steroid dexamethasone cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators and by a fifth for those on oxygen.

And further data suggests another steroid, hydrocortisone, is equally effective too.

Trials also continue into the effectiveness of blood plasma, taken from those who have successfully fought off Covid.

Other drugs are also being tested.

And every health system in the world is now very aware of the importance of having intensive care ventilators, PPE and other vital kit to tackle the virus.

Whether or not the Government is able to find enough staff to make proper use of its temporary Nightingale Hospitals, remains to be seen, however.

9 – More rebels reluctant to obey the rules?

If there is a second nationwide lockdown, it might not be as welcome as it was in March.

Back then, Boris Johnson’s approval ratings as Prime Minister were through the roof, as the country came together to support the Government’s eventual choice to take tough action.

There is still likely to be support for the Government if it decides to lock us all down again.

Back in September, when Mr Johnson announced the rule of six and the planned tier system for local lockdowns, 78% of Brits supported him, according to YouGov

But there has been more criticism of the Government of late and there is an argument it has lost the trust of some areas on its handling of the pandemic.

Anecdotal tales from pollsters suggest the subject of Dominic Cummings – the PM’s adviser who broke lockdown rules way back at Easter – is still mentioned in almost every focus group.

The consensus is, it’s ‘one rule for them, one rule for us’.

Salisbury Journal: Dominic CummingsDominic Cummings

If those making the rules are happy to flout them, why should ordinary members of the public endure separation from their families – sometimes even when relatives are ill or dying?

Add to that the recent row between Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham and the Government – which some will feel shows the Government picking on certain areas of the country – and there is less goodwill than there once was.

Whatever the Government decides, it’s vital it brings people together as it did in March – if the public don’t follow the rules, the spread of the virus won’t slow down.