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    Academics behind ‘circuit breaker’ study admit their death figures are over-estimated

    Academic behind startling ‘circuit breaker’ study which found half-term lockdown could save up to 100,000 lives by New Year admit their death figures are wildly over-estimated and say they wish they’d never used them

    • Professor Matt Keeling said he wished he ‘hadn’t put these numbers in the study’
    • Paper said about 107,000 Britons could die by January without a circuit breaker
    • Study’s findings already been used as ammunition by scientists and politicians

    Professor Matt Keeling suggested thousands of lives could be saved if the country goes into a circuit breaker over half term

    The academic behind a startling study which projected a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ could save thousands of lives by New Year has today admitted his figures were wildly over-estimated. 

    In the paper, Professor Matt Keeling – from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which feeds data into SAGE – suggested more than 100,000 British lives could be spared by January if the country shuts down over half-term.

    But the Warwick University epidemiologist admitted today he wished he ‘hadn’t put these numbers in the study’ because it was an extreme scenario that was only included ‘for illustration’.

    The finding was based on the assumption that all lockdown measures currently in place would be lifted, leaving the virus unchecked from now until January. However, the paper’s findings have already been used as ammunition by supporters of the economically-damaging measure.

    The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has for weeks been pleading with ministers to impose a national circuit-breaker but their demands were overruled by Boris Johnson amid fears it would ‘shatter’ the economy.

    It now appears as though the PM has caved in, as sources told the Telegraph he is 80 per cent likely to order the closure of pubs, restaurants and some other firms. 

    Professor Keeling told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning: ‘I really, really wish I hadn’t put these numbers in the paper because they were there for illustration.

    ‘We looked at a range of different scenarios from a relatively low growth rate going forward where we might reduce deaths by a third between now and new year to some extreme scenarios, which I think are the ones that have been quoted in the papers, which really were “what happens if we don’t do anything?” between now and the new year.’

     

    Graphs from the paper show what effect different circuit breakers would have on deaths, hospitalisations and infections. Yellow represents the most strict form of circuit breaker, while the dotted black line shows what would happen if no measures were in place

    Graphs from the paper show what effect different circuit breakers would have on deaths, hospitalisations and infections. Yellow represents the most strict form of circuit breaker, while the dotted black line shows what would happen if no measures were in place

    Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded a ‘circuit breaker’ during a televised press conference last night, accusing the PM of ‘losing control’ of the virus.

    While senior SAGE expert Sir Jeremy Farrar, who is also the director of the London based reseach centre, the Wellcome Trust, slammed Mr Johnson for achieving the ‘worst of all worlds’. 

    Rumours were swirling today that the PM is seriously considering the short lockdown next week, which was announced in Northern Ireland this morning and appears imminent in Wales. 

    Scotland is already in a watered-down version of the scheme, with pubs, restaurants, cafes and gyms shut in the central belt, and a 6pm curfew on most premises in the rest of the country.  

    Professor Keeling’s paper, which will be peer reviewed in the coming weeks before being published in a scientific journal, looks at what would happen if a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown was brought in from October 24 to November 7 — coinciding with half-term. 

    Northern Ireland will introduce a four-week circuit-breaker lockdown from FRIDAY 

    Northern Ireland will close its pubs for a month from Friday and shut schools for a fortnight from next week under a circuit-breaker lockdown, First Minister Arlene Foster announced today.

    The province will ramp up its coronavirus measures after it suffered a sharp up-spike in cases. Some 863 cases were reported in Northern Ireland yesterday – bringing the total to 21,898 – along with seven new deaths.

    It came as Ireland this morning suggested that it will consider altering its own coronavirus measures in the counties that border Ulster. 

    Ms Foster told the Stormont Assembly this morning the rising figures were of ‘grave concern’.

    ‘We fully appreciate that this will be difficult and worrying news for a lot of people,’ she told MLAs.

    ‘The Executive has taken this decision because it is necessary, and we discussed the impacts in great detail. We do not take this step lightly.’ 

    She pledged to look at business support ‘as a priority’ .

    The measures will see pubs and restaurants shut ahead of this weekend, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries. Off-licences will have to close at 8pm, with the same cut off for supermarkets to sell alcohol.

    Shops will remain open, as will gyms for individual training. Churches will also stay open, but with a 25-person guest limit on funerals and weddings. Receptions are banned.

    The fortnight school closure includes a week of half-term holiday, so children would only miss a single week of lessons. 

    While the moves do not amount to a full scale lockdown similar to that imposed during the first wave of the virus, they mark a significant ramping up in Northern Ireland’s response to spiraling infection rates.

    Ms Foster said she hoped further support measures for those affected by the latest restrictions would be signed off by another meeting of ministers on Thursday.

    ‘There will be better days if people take personal responsibility for their actions.

    ‘I plead with people today, please take personal responsibility for your actions. Please work with us.’  

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    The document says the tougher measures could stop 5,000 to 140,000 people being hospitalised with coronavirus by January and may ‘limit the economic damage’. 

    The paper did not explain exactly how this would be achieved but it suggested ushering in tougher measures now could prevent a full-blown months-long lockdown in future.  

    The authors say ‘precautionary breaks’ would let the government control the virus ‘while their fixed duration and the forewarning may limit their society impact… potentially allowing other measures (such as contact tracing) to regain control’.

    They continue: ‘This reduction in infection can be interpreted as a temporal reset, taking the level of infection back (in time) to a lower value, allowing greater opportunity for additional public health measures to be enacted or take effect.’

    And they add that the ‘circuit-breaker’ system could also work for the Christmas holidays or spring half-term’. 

    It comes as Tory MPs and Cabinet ministers lashed back at SAGE demands for a national ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown today – despite claims Boris Johnson is seriously considering the option at school half-term.

    Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey defied escalating attacks from scientists as she said new nationwide measures are not on the cards before the end of the month, insisting the focus is on the new ‘Tiered’ local restrictions.

    Conservative backbenchers are up in arms at the idea, with fears that the damage from economic meltdown will be much worse than the virus, and warnings about punishing areas that still have low infection rates.

    But the PM is being assailed on both sides by ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’ in his own top team, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock engaged in angry exchanges with rebels in the Commons last night.

    Meanwhile Keir Starmer has ramped up the pressure by explicitly backing a ‘circuit breaker’, with No10 accusing him of ‘playing politics’ with the pandemic.

    There are mounting signs of anxiety within Downing Street about its approach, after it emerged publicly that the PM has been defying his scientific advice for weeks.

    Rumours were swirling today that Mr Johnson is seriously considering a ‘circuit breaker’, a form of which is already in place in Scotland and appears imminent in Northern Ireland and Wales.

    Some schools, including most private schools, have their half-term next week, while others are the following week. One source told the Telegraph the PM is 80 per cent likely to order the closure of pubs, restaurants and some other firms.

    However, asked this morning whether a national lockdown was looming in the next two weeks, Ms Coffey told Sky News: ‘I don’t believe that is the case.’

    Asked on LBC whether there was appetite for an England-wide circuit breaker in the Conservative Party, she replied: ‘No I don’t.’ She added that it was ‘not the right approach’.

    Northern Ireland is set for a period of intensified coronavirus restrictions after executive ministers agreed to closures of schools, pubs and restaurants. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said today that he is leaning towards imposing a ‘circuit breaker’.

    The UK recorded more than 100 coronavirus deaths for the first time in four months yesterday as officials announced 143 more victims.

    As the three-Tier Covid alert level system comes into force across England, the Liverpool City Region is currently the only area in the highest bracket. However, the government’s ‘Gold Command’ group is expected to discuss today whether Greater Manchester and Lancashire should be escalated.

    Liverpool Covid-19 inpatients to surpass first peak in ‘next seven to 10 days’

    Health officials in Liverpool expect to see the number of Covid-19 patients in the city’s hospitals surpass the levels of the first peak in the next seven to 10 days.

    Councillor Paul Brant, cabinet member for adult health and social care at Liverpool City Council, said there were around 277 confirmed cases currently in hospital – compared to around 400 during the pandemic’s first peak.

    Around half of the intensive care beds across the Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are currently occupied by those being treated for the virus.

    ‘We’re expecting to see rates of inpatients continue to rise and probably surpass the levels in March or April within the next seven to 10 days,’ Mr Brant told the PA news agency on Tuesday.

    ‘There were 277 inpatients with Covid diagnosis yesterday, about 96 or so are awaiting tests. I think the previous peak was about 400 or so.’

    He added: ‘What will happen is they will stop the elective surgery, stop diagnostic procedures and stop screening services in order to free up beds that would otherwise be used for that activity, to ensure that any sort of surge capacity in relation to Covid is accommodated.’

    As there is not a temporary Nightingale hospital in the area, Mr Brant said wards in the half-built new Royal Liverpool Hospital were utilised as overfill capacity for patients during the first wave.

    On Monday, Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Steve Warburton told staff in a memo that it had reached a ‘critical point’.

    He said the trust was scaling back planned procedures, adding it was ‘taking a phased approach to reducing our elective programme, while exploring options with other providers to maintain some of this work in alternative locations’.

    He added: ‘We will continue to prioritise surgery based on clinical need, with a view to maintaining urgent and cancer surgery where possible.

    ‘We will continue to maintain access to outpatient appointments wherever possible, and maintain diagnostic activity.’

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    Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said it was ‘disappointing’ Ministers were ‘piling the pressure’ on the region ‘without negotiating’, and within days of the area being classes as Tier Two for restrictions.

    Relations with the scientific community – and crucially chief advisers Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance – appear to have deteriorated dramatically as divisions are played out in public.

    In a brutal Twitter thread overnight, Professor Farrar warned that the government risked damaging the economy and should have acted three weeks ago to avoid an even worse March-style lockdown.

    ‘The latest government plans are an attempt to compromise between health and the economy but may end up damaging both,’ he said.

    ‘We didn’t use the summer months to get an effective, supportive & trusted track-trace-isolate system in place as other countries managed to do. That would have helped get r right down. Instead we headed into autumn with r too high. We’re sadly seeing the consequences of this now.

    ‘New measures shift responsibility to local authorities, but as the CMO made crystal clear, at base they will have little to no effect on transmission.

    ‘This is the worst of all worlds, the economic damage of more restrictions without the gain of a reduction in transmission.’

    Prof Farrar said the best time to act would have been three weeks ago, but an immediate ‘circuit breaker’ would help.

    ‘If we wait, the government will inevitably have to change course again in 4-6 weeks, but the longer they leave it the harsher restrictions will have to get and the longer they will need to be imposed,’ he warned.

    However, Ms Coffey sent a hard message that the government is not planning a national move.

    ‘The reason being, Parliament has only just voted last night for this national approach of the three tiers with much stronger local measures where they are needed,’ she told LBC.

    ‘And we need to take communities with us right across the country in having some of the national measures, but frankly the Labour Party was saying 19 out of 20 areas in these lockdowns haven’t made any difference, now they want to see a national lockdown.

    ‘I don’t think it is the right approach. Right now we need to allow this chance for the localised interventions to really have an effect so that together we can be focused on saving lives and livelihoods.’

    But Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin, chair of the powerful Liaison Committee, said a national lockdown should not be considered.

    ‘In the areas where there are very sharply rising cases there is a strong case for going straight to Tier 3 measures, but these should be selective, they should not be national,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

    ‘Whereas Essex has got an 82 per cent increase over the last seven days, Cornwall has only got 16.2 per cent, Somerset has only got 39 per cent.’

    Sir Bernard said he had called on ministers to set-up a ‘high-level strategy group’ to look at how it handles the coronavirus pandemic in the longer term.

    He said it should ‘think about how we are going to live with the virus in the weeks and months ahead, because it is unlikely a vaccine is going to provide a single knockout blow to the whole thing’.

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