December ‘circuit-breaker’ could save thousands of lives in short term, advisers say

Of the need for one soon, he said: “We’re a bit late now for half-term in the sense I don’t know if that’s enough time for business and people to adapt. But if you said the first two weeks of December, then… staff can take holidays, businesses can work around that and potentially people can say: ‘Right, I’m going to go and stay with my sister for two weeks’.

“You won’t be able to leave once you got there, but you could actually make it, I think, quite liveable.”

Prof Keeling told the Press Association that the figures contained in the research paper were, in effect, a worst-case scenario. He said the figures were for “illustrative purposes” and were looking at what would happen if the virus was allowed to run with no interventions.

Test and trace could be one of the things that could be ramped up during a “circuit-breaker” as the number of coronavirus cases fell.

“At the moment, we’re very close to capacity on what Test and Trace can do, so if there’s more capacity in the system, there’s more potential for pushing things down, and it’s easier to investigate little outbreaks that occur,” he said.

“If we end up with too many cases, then Public Health England (PHE) is going to be overwhelmed by the number of outbreaks that will occur. So being at low levels means you have the opportunity to keep sort of stamping on any little outbreak that you see.

“It’s also advantageous in that it takes us back, in the best case, it takes us back to some time in August, so we have that sort of extra month of planning… we could think about alternative control measures.”

Prof Keeling said he was “concerned about the current tiers”, adding that a circuit-breaker may be needed “just to sort of ramp everything down, give us breathing space and also sort of allow us to start really controlling the outbreaks as they’re occurring”.

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