No one wanted a second lock down to be necessary. The Prime Minister, with a massive expansion in testing and the tiered approach to controlling the virus, tried desperately hard to avoid it.
We all know that the lockdown, even if time-limited, will be hard for many businesses.. For many it means the heartache of being apart from loved ones and, although the impact would be worse were we not to take action, it represents a real risk to mental health.
All of this is known, it is not a decision that anyone wants to take.
However Europe is seeing Covid 19 return with a vengeance with cases now significantly outstripping North America. Lockdowns have been imposed in France, Germany, Belgium, Spain. Even Sweden has introduced regional “voluntary lockdowns” with similar rules.
Locally we have a far lower rate of infection than for example Liverpool, Glasgow or Manchester. However areas like the South East are seeing a rapid growth in the virus.
Differences of view among scientists are inevitable over a disease about which we still have much to learn. It is right that the advice provided to the Government by SAGE – a broadly based group of scientists - is informed by that healthy debate. It is right that the Government challenges the advice. It is appropriate that Parliament then tests the Government and can challenge its decisions.
However, informed by that scientific evidence, action to my mind must be taken at this stage to suppress the virus.
Without taking action the number of people requiring hospital treatment for Covid will continue to increase. This will be happening during winter months with its annual rise in hospital admissions. The brilliant work of the NHS improving Covid treatment is saving lives – but those recovering need support, often for protracted periods.
Despite having more doctors and nurses than ever before, more hospital beds available and the Nightingale Hospitals standing by, Covid-19 could overwhelm parts of the NHS. This is not an inconceivable scare-story – it happened to other advanced healthcare systems earlier this year and could again.
The impact would be felt not just from those suffering from Covid, but by all those requiring hospital support be it for cancer treatment, stroke or heart attack.
The idea that life in the UK and our economy could continue as normal against that backdrop I do not believe to be realistic – the hit may be just as severe and certainly longer.lasting.
By acting now we hope to maintain the full range of health services – for all who need them. It means with the support of Heads and teachers, that children, can continue in school. It also means we can suppress the virus more quickly. Above all we will save lives.
We now know far more about this disease, we are delivering more tests: at a capacity of over 500,000 a day. We have the imminent prospect of using reliable rapid turnaround tests. We are piloting plans which should revolutionise our ability to identify the virus in the community early and keep people safe.
We are also much closer to a likely vaccine.
The Covid nightmare is not endless but we need to act now to ensure we keep people, of all ages, safe. The decision to ”lockdown” is extremely difficult but it is the right approach and necessary.