Yesterday, Keir Starmer called on the government to introduce a national circuit breaker in England to drive down transmission and protect our NHS.

A circuit breaker is in line with evidence from SAGE and is a temporary set of clear and effective restrictions designed to bring down the R rate. It would last two to three weeks across England, and happen imminently to be timed to run across half-term to minimise disruption. Schools would otherwise be kept open.

A circuit breaker would mean:

  • Only essential work and travel.
  • That everyone who can work from home should do so.
  • Non-essential offices should be closed.
  • Household mixing should be restricted to one household except for those who have formed support ‘bubbles’.
  • And all pubs, bars and restaurants would be closed for two-to-three weeks – but compensated so no business loses out because of the sacrifices we all need to make.
  • It should also mean the UK Parliament moves to remote working.

I know that these restrictions won’t be easy to live with. Since March, the British people have made enormous sacrifices to help get the virus under control. They stopped socialising with family and friends, saw their incomes fall or disappear completely, and did their best to follow the government’s guidance – even when it seemed confusing and inconsistent.

It’s, frankly, infuriating to see this sacrifice go to waste and infections spike again due to government ineptitude. And it is because of this ineptitude that a circuit breaker is now necessary. It would be an opportunity to reset and rectify some of the mistakes the government has made.

In particular, Ministers need to get a grip on testing and hand over track and trace to local authorities. SAGE has confirmed that the largely privatised system is only having a “marginal impact” on transmission of the coronavirus.

The latest weekly statistics show that only two-thirds of those testing positive were transferred onto the track and trace system and only 68.6% of these people’s close contacts were reached. In contrast, local health protection teams reached 97.1% of close contacts.

The circuit breaker would also need to be accompanied by extensive support for jobs, businesses and our local economies. Because if we are requiring businesses to close, we must provide the financial support necessary to support businesses, jobs, and our local communities. Labour believes that every job matters and every business matters, in every part of the country.

It’s time for the government to follow the science, bring in a circuit breaker, and transfer control of contact tracing to local authorities, so that we can better protect people’s lives and livelihoods.

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