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PM Boris Johnson was last night under increasing pressure to order a nationwide mini-lockdown – with a 60 per cent chance he will bring in the measure over half-term.
Growing demands for a “circuit breaker” to tackle surging Covid cases came as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for a shutdown of up to three weeks.
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Scientists claim this could save thousands of lives.
The PM has so far rejected warnings from his medical advisers that a major reset is required.
But there is a growing belief in his inner circle that the move is inevitable.
One close Cabinet colleague said last night there is a 60 per cent chance he will bring in the measure over half-term, which begins for many a week on Friday.
It comes as Northern Ireland looks set to plunge into a four-week circuit breaker lockdown with schools, pubs and restaurants all to close.
Schools will close for half of the four-week period while restaurants and bars will only be able to offer takeaways.
Yesterday, it emerged the Sage advisory committee of government scientists told ministers the “circuit breaker” would put the march of the virus back by 28 days.
But the PM refused to implement the draconian measures and unveiled his three-tier local lockdowns instead — with Liverpool immediately hit with the highest restrictions.
Adding pressure to the PM, Labour’s Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is also demanding a circuit break.
He warned putting the North into Tier Three restrictions would “be a path to hardship for people, redundancies and business failure”.
But No 10 last night said a “gold command” meeting will today be held to discuss if Greater Manchester and Lancashire should join Liverpool and be put on very high alert.
The change would put the two areas into Tier Three, which would see 3,100 pubs and 475 gyms shut their doors.
Mr Johnson’s new hardline stance to use tiers to protect the economy over advice for a lockdown from the scientists had seen him showered with praise from senior Tories.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for pubs and restaurants to be closed across the nation and workers to stay at home for at least two weeks.
Yet he was unable to say how he could guarantee the lockdown would not drag on longer if rates remained stubbornly high.
And he could not say how much the draconian move would cost England’s already shattered businesses.
Boris accused Sir Keir of “playing politics with the virus”.
TRUCE IS DEAD
He told a private meeting of Tory MPs the Labour leader was “careering around like a shopping trolly with a broken wheel”.
Until yesterday, Labour had vowed “constructive opposition” in regard to the virus, promising to work with and support the Government’s strategy.
But last night that truce was dead. The Sun can reveal that some in Mr Johnson’s Cabinet believe the PM will have to relent, but is concerned about the “toxicity” of another lockdown and was even looking for another name to call the temporary measure.
It came as the daily death toll rose above 100 for first time in four months yesterday — taking the total to 43,018.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock — who wants more restrictions — made a tetchy defence of the Government’s latest curbs.
He told MPs: “We’re trying to protect, as much as is possible, education and protect, as much as is possible, work.
"Essentially that leaves socialising as the other part of life, of activity where people transmit the virus.
“And so it is therefore understandable that governments around the world and around this United Kingdom, governments of all different political persuasions, have all come to broadly the same conclusion that it is necessary to restrict socialising because that way we reduce the transmission with the least damage to education and the economy.”
'BREAK THE CYCLE'
The PM was told by Sage last month that shutting universities would have more of an impact on reducing the spread of Covid than the combined effect of closing bars, pubs, restaurants and gyms.
But Mr Johnson ignored their call and ploughed on with his three tiered virus response.
Tory grandee and leading lockdown rebel Sir Graham Brady told The Sun: “Boris should be congratulated on resisting moves to ever tighter restrictions.
"The lockdown earlier in the year was justified on the grounds that it ensured that NHS critical care capacity would not be overwhelmed.
“But since then we have seen that these kinds of restrictions carry a huge cost in terms of illness and lives lost to other things such as cancer going undiagnosed or untreated and a huge economic cost as well, with millions of jobs and many thousands of businesses threatened.”
But addressing the PM directly yesterday, Sir Keir warned: “You can’t keep delaying this and come back to the House of Commons every few weeks with another plan that won’t work. So act now. Break the cycle.
The Sun says
BORIS Johnson has rightly refused to surrender control to the erratic scientists of Sage. Nor must he buckle to the immense pressure Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer cynically piled on him yesterday.
Sage and Starmer both now clamour for the new national lockdown every sane person previously considered catastrophic, unthinkable and unfair.
For Sage it is the culmination of a long journey from complacency to panic.
Starmer, meanwhile, knows the public backs sweeping restrictions — and that if Boris resists he can blame the PM for every new death, claiming they would have lived under Labour.
And yet Labour, as ever, will accept no responsibility for the mass unemployment and deprivation their plan would cement in place.
They are already blaming Chancellor Rishi Sunak for a “1980s jobs crisis” despite the unprecedented sums he has spent to minimise hardship.
Their games are revolting and shameful. Yet it will take a PM of immense courage to resist the lockdown calls.
Unlike Sage or Starmer, though, Boris has responsibilities to us all. Yes, to the old and sick, the most vulnerable to dying from Covid.
But also to the overwhelming majority who aren’t, and whose job may be lost, business bankrupted, family home repossessed.
The first lockdown cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. A second will send unemployment rocketing towards four million: More firms destroyed, more families destitute, more ordinary people suffering physically and mentally.
And there is no plan beyond the panic button Starmer and Sage long to press.
Starmer wants a “two to three-week” lockdown. He doesn’t even know exactly how long. Not long enough, in fact, to register significant falls in the daily tolls.
But even if they did visibly decline, what then? Reopen the economy, watch them climb again, then lock down a THIRD time in the dead of winter?
How would this cycle of doom ever end? With a vaccine not yet invented? With a mass-testing programme which exists only in Matt Hancock’s dreams?
Sage admits its lockdown would delay the virus’s march just 28 days. What, then, is its point, given the cost?
Boris has a monumental decision no one would envy. He is surrounded by a divided Cabinet, scientists covering their backsides and a devious, tribal Opposition hell-bent on deploying a grave national crisis for political advantage.
He must try to take his time and somehow make the right call.
“If you do you will have the votes in the House of Commons. I can assure you of that. You don’t need to balance the needs of your party against the national interest.”
Meanwhile, Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan was begging ministers to put the capital under stricter measures.
But junior ministerial aide Chris Green quit the Government over local lockdown restrictions, saying Mr Johnson had gone too far.
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