BORIS Johnson overruled Sage experts who called for a “circuit breaker” lockdown to stem the growing tide coronavirus infections.
The PM last night announced his new three tiered system of local lockdown, stressing it was crucial to strike the right balance between doing enough and not wrecking havoc for the economy.
But documents from the Government Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies have revealed his top team of experts were pushing for a harsher lockdown.
The group of scientists, chaired by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty who appeared with the PM last night, called for the country to immediately be put under a set of tough national rules akin to a “circuit breaker” lockdown.
They warned that failing to do so could result in “a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences”.
The new three tiered system mean Liverpool was the only place given the top “very high” risk alert level, and pubs, bars, gyms and casinos will be forced to close from Wednesday.
Parts of the country under local lockdown rules before the announcement were flung into the “high” alert level, which bans indoor household mixing.
But Mr Johnson suggested last night he wanted more areas to be slapped with the toughest restrictions.
Papers from Sage show the scientists urged for national measures at meeting on September 20 and 21, including closing all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gyms and hairdressers.
The scientists said it was essential the R rate – or rate of reproduction of the virus – was pushed downwards by any new measures brought in.
It is currently around 1.2 and 1.5 in the UK.
A short, sharp circuit breaker lockdown would be “likely to have similar levels of effectiveness as national lockdown in spring” and help the R rate plummet.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon brought in a 16-day circuit breaker style lockdown from Friday evening.
Pubs in Scotland must close from 6pm, and won’t be able to serve alcohol at all.
They warned: “A package of interventions will need to be adopted to reverse this rise in exponential cases. Single interventions by themselves are unlikely to be able to bring R below 1.
The minutes, published after the Downing Street briefing, say: “The shortlist of non-pharmaceutical interventions that should be considered for immediate introduction includes a circuit breaker (short period of lockdown) to return incidence to low levels; advice to work from home for all those that can;
“Banning all contact within the home with members of other households, except members of a support bubble; closure of all bars, restaurants cafes, indoor gyms and personal services (eg hairdressers); all university and college teaching to be online unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential.”
Professor Whitty warned last night the base-line of the toughest Tier 3 lockdown measures would not be enough to force infection rates down in worst hit areas.
During a sombre address to the nation, he said: “I am very confident that the measures that are currently in place are helping to slow the virus.
“These measures will help to slow it further.
“I am not confident – nor is anybody confident – that the tier three proposals for the highest rate, if you did the absolute base case and nothing more would be enough to get on top of it.”
Local authorities will be able to put forward “bespoke” measures under the different tiers – for example, those in tier three could suggest closing gyms.
Professor Whitty said: “There is a lot of flexibility in tier three level for local authorities and directors of public health to go up that range so they can do significantly more than absolute base.”
He added that it was an “illusion” that the UK would be able to stop the surge of new coronavirus infections without causing harm to the nation.
But there is little appetite in the UK for further measures which would crash the economy.
New statistics from the Office of National Statistics show unemployment has risen by 4.5 per cent.
Of people newly out of a job, 300,000 of those are aged 16-24 – or 60 per cent of the fall in employment.