Covid: How much worse has the pandemic got since the government rejected 'circuit break' lockdown

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

The government has been accused of ignoring recommendations for a "circuit break" two-week national lockdown in September to stop rising numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths.

So, how has the situation changed since the advice was made on September 21?

Official papers showed the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) suggested introducing a national lockdown lasting between two and three weeks which could "put the epidemic back by approximately 28 days or more".

The document also said a package of interventions - such as closing pubs, restaurants and gyms and moving all but essential college and university teaching online - was needed to reverse the “exponential” rise in cases.

The increase in cases in different regions.

Since the paper was published the government has introduced the rule of six, began encouraging people to work from home again and introduced the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants.

Tougher local measures, such as stopping different households from mixing indoors, have been introduced in areas of the country where cases are particularly high.

On Monday, the government announced a new three-tier system of coronavirus measures for England, yet Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, who is part of Sage, said he did not believe even the toughest restrictions under this new plan would be enough to get on top of the respiratory disease.

Since the government rejected the idea the situation in the UK has got a lot worse.

On September 21, not all university courses across the country had restarted, yet the return of students has caused huge outbreaks in university towns and cities, with many new starters forced into quarantine with complete strangers.

While young people are relatively unaffected by the virus the fear of it spreading into the general public has led to previously relatively unaffected places like Sheffield or Nottingham being put under a tier two lockdown.

The return of students to universities is thought to have been one of the major driving factors in the increase in cases in recent weeks.

Robert Jenrick defends the government's decision to not follow 'circuit breaker' lockdown advice

Yesterday England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam shared figures that showed a surge in coronavirus cases in late September.

The data showed the North West had the greatest number of cases, account for about 40% of England's total.

In the three weeks since the circuit breaker lockdown was rejected, data shows cases and deaths have increased rapidly.

The slide shows how the virus is moving through the age groups.

At a press briefing on Monday, Prof Whitty showed how there had been a steep rising hospital admission for coronavirus patients, particularly among those aged over 75 in England.

It is generally understood the lag in time between infection and the point of becoming ill enough to need hospital attention is around three weeks.

With infections more than doubling last week, it suggests hospital admissions will continue to increase.

What happened in the week the circuit breaker was rejected?

According to government data in the week ending September 25 there were 37,301 new cases of coronavirus, with a weekly average of 5,329.

There were 1,916 patients in hospital coronavirus and there were 205 deaths.

This week saw a further 1.75 million people put under lockdown as Leeds, Blackpool, Stockport and Wigan were subjected to enhanced measures.

Sage estimated the R number was around 1.2 to 1.5.

What happened in the week ending October 2?

In the week ending October 2 this had risen to 43,912 new cases with a weekly average of 6,273. There were 2,567 patients in hospital with coronavirus and there were 331 deaths.

Credit: UK Government.

This was the week the government suffered a major glitch in its cases reporting numbers which had appeared to show cases were slowing.

The R number estimate was also raised to 1.3 to 1.6.

What happened last week?

In the week ending October 9 cases more than doubled to 108,535 with a weekly average of 15,505 with 411 deaths.

Around 16,000 of these cases were ones that were missing from the previous week due to the data problems.

The changing pattern caused by spread of Covid-19.

The latest data available for the whole of the UK says there were 3,837 patients in hospital with coronavirus on October 8.

The latest data for England shows there were 3,665 people in hospital with coronavirus on October 12, compared to 3,044 on October 8.

The R number was lowered to 1.2 to 1.5 during this week still above the amount needed to keep the virus under control.

What is a circuit breaker?

The idea of a circuit breaker lockdown is centred around using the information available about the number of cases now compared to at the start of the pandemic, to quickly and decisively intervene in order to prevent worse measures being necessary later - such as the lockdown which lasted for weeks earlier this year.

The hope would be two weeks of measured direct interventions which would be more easily controlled and planned for in order to prevent the need for a reactionary lockdown that would have to be in place for longer.

The measures suggested by Sage are close to what the national lockdown in March was, with the exception of closing schools and key industries that could not work from home.

Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London told the BBC's Today Programme "What we've done through the pandemic is we've invested huge amounts of money in being able to track where the virus is and where it is increasing so we have much better information to pick up early warnings of increases in cases.

"That should allow us to act early in a decisive way to prevent having to act in a more damaging way later and that was really one of the intentions of the recommendations for a circuit break."