Mirror Online: LONDON, England – Hopes for a traditional family Christmas are fading fast after ministers, scientists and Labour all admitted England’s second lockdown could extend beyond December 2.
The confession leaves Christmas hanging in the balance and is likely to worsen a Tory mutiny.
Sir Keir previously called for a two to three week lockdown but the government delayed so long, scientists say that will no longer be enough. He told the BBC: “We need to stay in the lockdown until the infection rate [R] is below 1.”
It comes after Boris Johnson last night announced a month-long lockdown for England – a screeching U-turn after weeks of pursuing failed local restrictions.
People will be ordered to stay at home while pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, gyms and non-essential shops must shut. People will be told to “stay at home” like in March. But schools will remain open.
Boris Johnson will address the Commons tomorrow and MPs are set to vote on the plans on Wednesday – amid a furious Tory revolt.
Mr Gove said it was “likely” the new shutdown would bring the R number below 1 and his “fervent hope” that it would end on time.
That would allow the number of new infections to reduce below the current rate of more than 20,000 a day.
And it would set the virus back several weeks in its development, buying valuable time to develop vaccines and treatment.
But asked five times today if the lockdown could be extended, Michael Gove admitted it could.
The Boris Johnson ally told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We’re going to review it on December 2 but we’re always driven by what the data shows.” He added: “We’re going to look at all of the data.
“We’ve got this four week period during which we’re going to review progress. But of course we’ll always be driven by the data.
“It’s our hope on the basis of the analysis that we have that we will have significantly reduced the reinfection rate.”
Warning people to obey the restrictions, he added: “If we chop away at all of the restrictions we may end up in a position where we don’t have a sufficiently strong team, bundle, raft of restrictions necessary in order to get R below 1.”
Asked a fifth time if it could be extended, Mr Gove replied: “Yes.”
Mr Gove also refused to rule out bringing in repeated national lockdowns after the new one is over.
He was confronted with comments by Cabinet minister Jenrick, who said on Thursday national lockdowns were “very firmly… not the right approach for the country.”
Mr Jenrick said on Thursday: “If it succeeded it is likely then needed to be repeated regularly.”
Asked if he could rule out further national lockdowns in future, Mr Gove swerved the question.
He replied: “One thing we can definitively say is unless we take action now the NHS is going to be overwhelmed in a way none of us could countenance. So therefore we have to take these steps.
“No one in government relishes taking these steps. We believe that by doing this now we’ll be in a stronger position later in December to have a stronger testing regime, we’ve significantly increased testing capacity, and we also believe we’ll further have developed our approach towards therapeutics…
“But again, we’ll always be guided by the evidence on what is right, and what recent months have shown is this virus is a terrible force of nature.”
SAGE expert Sir Jeremy Farrar warned ministers would need to be “flexible” about the length of the lockdown.
“We all hope four weeks is going to be enough, and the better chance of the four weeks being enough is if we all observe and respect the changes that have come in.
“If we do not see that the transmission in the community – and therefore hospitalisations and tragically deaths – is not coming below 1 [sic], it would be much better to extend this lockdown for another couple of weeks prior to the Christmas period and then loosen the restrictions a little bit over Christmas so that people can meet up with their families.
“Much better to do that than remove these restrictions and then have to reimpose even more draconian restrictions around Christmas or soon into the new year.”
Sir Jeremy also warned schools could have to shut if the new lockdown doesn’t have enough of an effect.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “The big difference to the first lockdown is that schools remain open.
“Because we have delayed the onset of this lockdown, it does make keeping schools harder.
“We know that transmission particularly in secondary schools is high.
“Personally, I think this is definitely the lockdown to put in place now. But if that transmission particularly in secondary schools continues to rise, then that may have to be revisited in the next four weeks in order to get R below 1 and the epidemic shrinking.”
The expert said children of secondary school age should wear masks because it would “reduce the chance” of the virus spreading.
“When you wear a mask you’re essentially protecting other people if you are infected and asymptomatic at the time,” he said.
“I think masks can play a role in that within the environment that are schools.”
Asked if could guarantee schools would not close “under any circumstances”, Michael Gove told Times Radio: “Yes”.
The Cabinet Office minister insisted he wanted to keep schools open as “a balance has to be struck”. “The key thing is, at certain points you, do have to say there are limits to the level of restriction we are going to impose,” he told the BBC.
“The balance we believe is right is continuing with education in the interests of children and their families.”
Asked if he could extend the lockdown for longer rather than shutting schools, he replied: “We want to keep schools open.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said schools “must stay open” during the lockdown but the risk must be “managed” – including mass testing.
“The harm to children of being out of school is too high,” Sir Keir added.
Any extension of the lockdown could bin off hopes of a traditional family Christmas.
Former Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Mark Walport told Sky News: “It does seem a bit unlikely that it’s going to be a normal Christmas.”