Ban on home get-togethers and the ‘nuclear option’ – How lockdown could get tougher

The prime minister has tightened lockdown rules and warned tougher measures could follow – but what other options could be on the table?

Ban on home socialising

Mr Johnson could announce a ban on different households mixing together indoors.

This may be the most likely next step as Scotland and Northern Ireland have announced the same move.

If he follows suit it would likely involve exceptions; such as for extended households, couples not living together and for childcare reasons.

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said on Monday that limiting social contact between households was key to tackling the steep rise in cases.

Another government adviser has also suggested that a ban on households mixing indoors in England “may well be coming very soon”.

More from Covid-19

Professor Peter Openshaw of Imperial College told the BBC: “I would think if we wait two or three weeks, it will be too late. It ought to be instituted sooner rather than later.”

Social gatherings of more than six people are already illegal in England whether inside or outside under the so-called “rule of six”.

The ‘nuclear option’

The PM is desperate to avoid another strict national lockdown, saying “we must do all we can to avoid going down that road again” – but it’s still on the table.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News it was still an option but that the government would “take every effort to avoid that”.

The government wants to avoid a lockdown like we had in spring - but has not ruled it out
Image: The government wants to avoid a lockdown like we had in spring – but has not ruled it out

A new lockdown that again closed shops, pubs and restaurants across the country could do terrible damage to businesses still trying to get back on their feet.

Mr Raab told Sky News: “We’ve always said we’ve got a sort of repository of measures in the arsenal to take.

“I don’t think we would speculate about what further could be done. But the reality is they will be more intrusive or we could end up in a national lockdown.

“That is what we want to avoid.”

Face masks in offices

The prime minister expanded the mandatory use of masks in his rule change announcement, forcing shop workers and people in taxis to wear one.

The British Medical Association, which represents the country’s doctors and medical students, says the government must go further.

France has already made masks the rule in most workplaces
Image: France has already made masks the rule in most workplaces

“Given that the infection is equally like to spread in all indoor settings, these rules should also apply to offices and other workplaces,” it said.

France has brought in a similar rule but Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last month that it was not considering following suit as evidence showed numbers catching the virus at work were relatively low.

Whether that position could change due to the rise in cases remains to be seen.

Targeted shielding and ‘segmentation’

Instead of blanket measure affecting tens of millions, some experts say measures should focus on the most vulnerable – the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions.

This might include once again telling vulnerable people to stay at home for months on end, as was the case in the first national lockdown.

Previous shielding advice for extremely vulnerable people was paused in England and Scotland in August – and there’s so far no indication it will be reinstated.

“Given the high proportion of COVID deaths in care homes, these should be a priority,” said a letter sent to government advisers this week by signatories including Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford.

Boris Johnson addresses the nation
In his address to the nation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country

“Such targeted measures should be explored as a matter of urgency, as the logical cornerstone of our future strategy,” added the letter.

Other academics disagree, with a group led by Trisha Greenhalgh, chair of primary care health sciences at Oxford University, writing their own letter to say the strategy has never been effective.

They also cautioned that the disease can also “occur in previously young and healthy individuals”.

“We believe that rather than absolute measures (lockdown or release), we should take a more relativistic approach of more relaxation/more stringency depending on control of the virus,” said their letter in the British Medical Journal.


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