Plans for a 'firebreak' October lockdown and longer half-term break reportedly being considered if NHS Covid admissions continue to rise
If Covid-19 hospitalisations continue to rise could the UK face a firebreak lockdown next month?
The government is reportedly drawing up contingency plans that could see schools forced to close for a longer period over October half-term, as part of emergency efforts to break transmission chains if there is a need to rapidly bring down case numbers.
There are concerns that with coronavirus cases once again on the rise, and all pupils now back at school, that hospitalisations too in the coming weeks will begin to rocket.
With the NHS already under pressure trying to address the long waiting times for treatment that was delayed by the pandemic, and the winter flu season just around the corner, attention is focussed on not pushing services to breaking point.
More than 41,000 people were reported yesterday (Monday) as testing positive for coronavirus in the latest daily case figures while more than 7,600 people were in hospital being treated for the virus as of 3rd September – the highest figure since March.
What is a firebreak lockdown?
Boris Johnson has said in the past that he hopes the success of the vaccine programme will prevent the UK from ever needing to return to a full lockdown like those seen in 2020 and at the start of this year.
But a short, sharp firebreak period of a number of days or weeks, rather than months, is often suggested as a successful way of quickly stemming the spread of the virus.
According to the i paper, scientists on government body Sage believe the UK is about to enter an 'extended peak' of infections and hospitalisations, and because of is, the government is reportedly drawing up contingency plans should signs suggest the NHS is heading for difficulties.
Among the measures suggested is an extended half-term holiday next month.
While a number of schools, mostly academies, already opt for a fortnight's break in October, for the majority of schools the autumnal half-term holiday remains just a week long and so keeping pupils home for a week longer than usual across the end of October and start of November could aid the slow of the virus going into winter.
It is believed the timely closure of the schools during the summer helped avoid any sharp rise in cases since the last of lockdown restrictions were lifted on July 19.
But the reopening of schools in Scotland for the start of the new school year – which happens earlier than it does in England – does appear to have contributed to a surge in infections the other side of the border.
Teachers union the NASUWT is already calling for the Scottish Government to step up Covid control measures in schools to help break the growing chains of virus transmission, amid the backdrop of soaring cases in schools only weeks after pupils returned to their desks.
Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said: “Ministers must not risk complacency by following a strategy of crossing their fingers and hoping for the best, given the rising numbers of Covid cases amongst school-age pupils in recent weeks.
“Ministers could reintroduce the requirement for pupils to self-isolate when they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive and move to support an extended programme of onsite testing in schools, rather than relying on a less effective system of home testing.
"These measures could have a significant impact in breaking the chain of virus transmission amongst young people."
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi say he remains focused on a booster programme for the most at risk of complications caused by coronavirus and that he hoped that would turn the virus from pandemic to endemic status.
A decision is also expected from the Government in the coming days on whether to offer healthy 12 to 15-year-olds a coronavirus vaccine while retailer Boots has already opened bookings for winter flu jabs, saying it is responding to the potential for a 'serious flu epidemic' this winter.