Lockdown 3.0 – If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Boris Johnson gave a televised address to the nation yesterday in which he announced a new national lockdown, instructing the population yet again to “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”. The Telegraph has the details:

Boris Johnson has plunged England into a third national lockdown to try to curb the rapid spread of coronavirus, as the country moved to Covid Alert Level 5.

The lockdown means people will only be able to leave their homes for limited reasons, with measures expected to stay in place until mid-February.

In an address to the nation, the Prime Minister said the new coronavirus variant – which is 50 to 70% more transmissible – was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” manner.

“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” he said.

The regulations are expected to be laid before Parliament on Tuesday, January 5th, with MPs retrospectively being given a vote after they are recalled early from the Christmas break on January 6th.

The third national lockdown, the strictest since last spring, begins immediately.

The new rules include:

  • Everyone living in England has been told to stay at home, and only to go out for specific reasons. Mr Johnson said: “You may only leave home for limited reasons permitted in law, such as to shop for essentials, to work if you absolutely cannot work from home, to exercise, to seek medical assistance such as getting a Covid test, or to escape domestic abuse.”
  • People who are clinically vulnerable and who were previously told to shield should stay at home and only leave for medical appointments and exercise
  • Primary and secondary schools will close immediately and move to online learning for all pupils except children of key workers and the most vulnerable. This will apply until at least mid-February and GCSE and A-level exams will be cancelled for the second year in a row.
  • University students will not be allowed to return to their institutions and will be expected to study from their current residence.
  • Non-essential retailers will be shut in the whole of England, together with gyms, hairdressers, sports facilities, pubs and restaurants. Restaurants and other hospitality venues can continue delivery or takeaway services but will no longer be permitted to serve alcohol.

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that nearly all of these restrictions already apply in Tier 4 areas, save for the fact that hospitality venues will no longer be allowed to sell takeaway alcohol. True, schools won’t reopen, but schools weren’t open in Tier 4 areas until yesterday – and in many Tier 4 areas not even then.

But if the existing restrictions haven’t been sufficient to contain the virus in Tier 4 areas like London, why does Boris think extending those restrictions to the rest of the country will “squash the sombrero”?

Needless to say, there were several references to the new mutant variant in Boris’s address:

The Prime Minister said that on December 29th “more than 80,000 people tested positive for Covid across the UK”, the number of deaths is up by 20% over the last week “and will sadly rise further”.

“It’s clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out,” he said.

“In England we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant.”

Given that this is the same old solution, we are entitled to ask the same old questions.

First, infections. Any decline in daily cases will likely be credited to the lockdown, but Professor Tim Spector says that his ZOE app is already showing an interesting trend:

Then there’s the question of whether extending Tier 4 restrictions to the entire country will “protect the NHS”, given that it is supposedly on the point of being overwhelmed in London, which has been in Tier 4 since December 20th.

The Telegraph reports that the Joint Chief Medical Officers have placed the country in COVID-19 alert level 5, meaning that there is a “material risk of health care services being overwhelmed” and the Chief Medical Officers have issued a joint statement:

We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.

Peter Hitchens, however, has a question:

And Dr Clare Craig highlights some key points in a bit of data analysis done by Joel Smalley showing that, in fact, the level of hospital admissions is completely normal for this time of year, as is winter mortality.

Boris set no specific end date for the lockdown, but he said schools wouldn’t return until at least mid-February – by which he means late February, since mid-February is when half-term is. He indicated that it depends on the successful rollout of the vaccines. Though close to being overwhelmed, the NHS hopes to offer a first dose to everyone in the top four priority groups, a total of 13,900,000 people according to vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi. If we manage to vaccinate 1.5 million/week, that will mean the third lockdown will last until mid-March.

Although that’s probably wildly optimistic. Only a few days ago, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam was eager to pour cold water on the notion that a vaccine can set you free, as the MailOnline records.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam was asked at Wednesday’s Downing Street press conference whether people who have had two doses of a vaccine would still have to follow strict rules such as not seeing their families.

The scientist defined the question as whether “it’s OK to behave with wild abandon and go off to the bingo halls and so forth”.

He said a lot was still unknown about whether jabs stopped people passing the disease to others and urged people to be “patient”.

The official told reporters that the magic phrase was “transmission” and said scientists would know within a couple of months how effective the vaccines are at reducing the chances of “severe illness” from Covid.

Boris said that people should follow the lockdown rules from now, that they would become law in the early hours of Wednesday, and that parliament would meet remotely later that day. Peter Hitchens says that it is time to write to MPs again and offers some suggested wording.

Stop Press: Several readers have got in touch to point out that the reason for the alarming case data Boris cited in his announcement – 80,000 on December 29th alone – is because the UK is testing more people than any other European country. One reader has calculated that we’re currently testing between six and 14 times more people every day than France, Italy and Germany. Another drew our attention to the number of “cases” in the UK for January 4th as recorded on Worldometers, which dwarfed that of France, Italy and Germany, even though the number of deaths is quite similar:

UK – 58,784 Cases/407 deaths

France – 4,022 Case/378 deaths

Italy – 10,800 Cases/348 deaths

Germany – 8,039 Cases/527 deaths

“Strange,” says the reader. “Over 10 times more cases than France with a similar number of deaths. Germany had over 100 more deaths, but 50,000 fewer cases.”

The explanation? Matt Hancock and his obsession with administering as many PCR tests each day as possible.

Stop Press 2: There is perhaps, as Professor Martin Kulldorff points out, a small crumb of comfort in the return to national lockdown. The fact that there’s another one shows that the sceptics were right: they don’t work.