AS THE Covid-19 infection rate in Britain soars to four times the level of the previous peak period between early April and early May, the central government is coming under heavy pressure to impose a “circuit-breaker” lockdown.
Whether this would cover Scotland and Wales as well as the whole of England remains to be negotiated.
Furthermore, as members of the government’s Sage advisory committee agree, the evidence in favour of the measure’s efficacy is some way from overwhelming.
It is clear that no single policy or strategy is guaranteed to halt the pandemic.
However, at the moment Britain shows signs of stumbling towards a disaster. Even though an imperfect test-and-trace system is nonetheless identifying more Covid victims and earlier, enabling swifter treatment and fewer fatalities, hospital admissions are once again beginning to rise.
The pressure of a second wave on NHS beds, facilities and staff could quickly reach breaking point in the worst-hit localities.
While new health service capacity has been added in recent months, we could yet see shortages of ventilators and high-quality PPE emerge.
Indeed, the government may come to regret its decision in June to reduce its order for 8,000 extra medical ventilators to 5,000.
That was part of the expensive botch-up that has marked this government’s responses to the emergency and which must be the subject of a full and open public inquiry once the pandemic is over.
The denial of NHS treatment to non-Covid patients has already left many thousands of people in almost unbearable pain, leading in some cases to deaths that would have been avoidable in pre-pandemic times.
Action is needed urgently which may well have to go beyond shifting local government areas from one tier to another.
Scotland has gone into its version of a national lockdown. Wales is highly likely to follow.
This highlights one aspect of the wider problem in Britain as a whole. Many people who are willing to abide by anti-Covid regulations are becoming increasingly confused by the existence of at least five different regimes across England, Wales and Scotland, with differing travel regulations applying to travellers across local, national and international boundaries.
Despite its caveats, Sage proposed a short-term all-Britain lockdown five weeks ago to clamp down on infections and protect the capacity of the NHS to deal with the most serious cases in a second wave.
Back then, the number of daily infections was rising above 4,000. Today, despite local lockdowns and the three-tier system, that figure has reached 16,000.
Urgent negotiations are needed between the Scottish, Welsh and Westminster governments to deliver a single, short, sharp lockdown across Britain, learning lessons from the last experience.
That should include the universal compulsion to wear a suitable mask everywhere outside the home, as has proved relatively effective from Tenerife to San Francisco.
The Covid-denying, anti-mask, anti-vaccination peddlers of baseless conspiracy theories have to be taken on in a public information campaign across our broadcasting and social media.
And Chancellor Rishi Sunak has to back a fresh lockdown with cash for all who will be disadvantaged.
If that means cancelling astronomic public expenditure on a renewed Trident nuclear weapons system and HS2, so be it.
Defeating Covid is infinitely more important than arming for a nuclear holocaust or travelling 30 minutes faster between London and Birmingham.
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