Coronavirus: January 2021 UK lockdown possible unless R rate reduced

Professor Neil Ferguson has warned that the UK could face another lockdown in the New Year if infection levels are not driven down following a second national lockdown. 

The Imperial College epidemiologist, nicknamed ‘Professor Lockdown’, said driving rates of infection down ‘substantially’ during the lockdown could see a relaxation of measures over the Christmas and could ‘pose some risks’.

The scientist went on to describe how ‘on-off measures’ were to be anticipated amid a pandemic and it would be ‘quite possible’ for measures to be revisited in early January.   

His comments come after Boris Johnson was on Saturday catapulted into announcing a total four-week shutdown for England from Thursday until December 2 amid a rise in coronavirus cases across the nation.

Imperial College epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson has warned that the UK could face another lockdown in early January

Speaking to Times Radio Breakfast he said: ‘If we can drive infection levels down substantially, then we’ll be in a better position to relax things over Christmas than if they are still at the current levels.

‘Relaxation will inevitably pose some risks, it will lead to more transmission, but, if that’s from a low baseline level, the costs of that and the harms it causes are going to be less than if we were at current levels.’

Professor Ferguson went on to say that data concerning transmission rates would need to be reviewed over the next few weeks.  

He continued: ‘Clearly, in some ways it will be better to find the perfect set of measures to keep transmission under control without needing to go in and out of lockdown.

‘It is quite possible, unfortunately, that we may have to revisit this again come early January or something.

‘I very much hope we don’t, but I think everybody we have spoken to says we have to see what the data shows in the next few weeks, and adjust the policy accordingly.’

Earlier today Britain recorded its lowers number of daily coronavirus cases in a fortnight.

Department of Health figures showed another 18,950 people had tested positive for the disease — down 9.3 per cent in a week and the lowest since Monday, October 19 (18,804). 

The UK also saw another 136 coronavirus deaths — a rise of 33.3 per cent on the 102 lab-confirmed fatalities posted last week. 

The figures came as the Prime Minister was roasted by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for delaying a national lockdown by 40 days as the country’s death toll continued to spiral.   

Boris Johnson was told by Keir Starmer that he could have entered lockdown soon

Keir Starmer roasted Boris Johnson for delaying the second lockdown

In the Commons today, Boris Johnson was roasted by Keir Starmer for wasting weeks refusing to enter a nation-wide lockdown

Sir Keir said: ‘On September 21 when the Government’s scientists Sage recommended an urgent two to three-week circuit break there were 11 deaths from Covid-19 and just over 4,000 Covid infections.

‘For 40 days the Prime Minister ignored that advice and when he finally announced a longer and deeper national lockdown on Saturday those figures had increased to 326 deaths a day and 22,000 Covid cases.

‘That is the human cost of the Government’s inaction. The reality is that the two pillars of the Prime Minister’s strategy, the £12billion Track and Trace and regional restrictions have not only failed to stop the second wave, they’ve been swept away by it.

‘At every stage, the Prime Minister has been too slow, behind the curve. At every stage, he has pushed away challenge, ignored advice and put what he hoped would happen above what is happening.

‘At every stage, he’s over-promised and under-delivered. Rejecting the advice of his own scientists over 40 days was a catastrophic failure of leadership and of judgment.’

Following the Prime Minister’s lockdown announcement on Saturday, Michael Gove suggested that England could also spend Christmas in full lockdown if the four-week November shutdown did not bring the rates of transmission in the country down.

Appearing on Sophy Ridge on Sky News, the Cabinet Office Minister defended the Prime Minister’s latest move and said that over November the Government would review the data.

Asked if the national lockdown could be extended, he replied: ‘Yes.’

He said: ‘We want to be in a position where we can – and I believe that this is likely to be the case – have an approach where if we bring down the rate of infection sufficiently we can reduce measures nationally and also reduce measures regionally.

‘Because the regional approach is one that, wherever possible, we want to take because again we recognise it may be the case in the future that having reduced R below 1, having reduced national restrictions, we may see a specific upsurge in specific areas which will require specific regional measures.’

But he added: ‘We are going to review it on December 2 but we will always be driven by what the data shows.’

Key points in COVID lockdown Mark 2 

  • Restrictions will start at midnight on Thursday morning and last until December 2. 
  • People can only leave their homes for specific reasons, such as to do essential shopping, for outdoor exercise, and for work if they are unable to work from home.
  • Non-essential shops will be told to shut, although supermarkets do not need to close off aisles as has happened in Wales.
  • Restaurants and bars will be told to close unless they can operate a takeaway service. 
  • Travel abroad is only permitted for ‘essential’ reasons such as work, people can still return to the UK from abroad. 
  • Leisure centres, gyms, sporting venues, hairdressers and beauty parlours will have to close, although professional sport will continue. 
  • Key businesses that cannot operate remotely – such as construction – should carry on as before with safety precautions.
  • Places of worship can stay open for private prayer. Funerals are limited to close family only.  
  • The furlough scheme will be extended during the period of the lockdown, rather than ending as originally planned. Self-employment grants will also be increased from 40 per cent of previous profits to 80 per cent for this month.
  • Exercise is permitted with no limits on frequency, but organised sports – including outdoor activities such as golf – will not be permitted. 
  • When the lockdown lapses the Tiers system will be reinstated, leaving questions about what metric will be used to decide whether areas can have restrictions eased. 


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