The circuit breaker divide: why no one can agree on the new lockdown proposal

What is a circuit breaker? Why has Keir Starmer proposed it? Will Boris Johnson implement it? Can it really reduce the rate of coronavirus cases and deaths? Let’s take a look.

From today, England is living under a three-tier lockdown restrictions system during the coronavirus pandemic. This means that each area will be classified as being on medium, high or very high alert. It’s the government’s response to the increasing number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, known as the second wave in the pandemic. 

We always knew this wave was coming: autumn and winter is flu season. But the fact is that some places around England, including Greater Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, recently saw a continuing rise in coronavirus cases after being on local lockdown for months.

You may also like

Coronavirus UK: understanding the 3 main reactions to the rise in Covid-19 cases

What is a circuit breaker?

In a press statement released last night (13 October), Starmer said a short national lockdown or “circuit breaker” in England of two to three weeks needs to happen to help reduce the rising rate of coronavirus. This, he says, is in line with guidelines recommended by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE)

Acknowledging how disruptive this would be to people’s daily lives, Starmer said the lockdown would mean:

  • Everyone who can work from home should do so and only essential work and travel would be allowed
  • Non-essential offices should be closed
  • Household mixing should be restricted to one household except for those who have formed support bubbles
  •  All pubs, bars and restaurants would be closed (but compensated)
  • UK Parliament should “move to remote working”.

Starmer explained that this wouldn’t including closing schools, but said it should “run across half-term to minimise disruption”. 

He described this as an opportunity to “reset” and get a grip on the Test and Trace tracking.

Will Boris Johnson agree to a circuit breaker approach?

When the proposal was discussed in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson said: “I rule out nothing of course in combating the virus, but we are going to do it with the local, the regional approach that can drive down and will drive down the virus if it is properly implemented.”

He added: “This is our opportunity to keep things going, to keep our kids in schools, to keep our businesses going.”

Confused people
Circuit breaker: what is it? And do you think it's the right thing to do?

What do the general public think about the proposed circuit breaker?

If the Stylist team’s morning meeting is anything to go by, people are divided over the Labour party’s circuit breaker suggestion. Here are two very different responses from team members:

“I’m frustrated that these kinds of nationwide restrictions are potentially being put in place with so little warning.”

Junior digital writer Lauren Gaell says: “I have very mixed feelings about the prospect of a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown over the half-term period. While I’m fully behind the idea of putting in restrictions to curb the spread of the virus and potentially save lives, I’m frustrated that these kinds of nationwide restrictions are potentially being put in place with so little warning.

“For the first time in 2020, I’ve booked to stay in an Airbnb for two nights over the half-term break. It’s nothing fancy – I’m staying at a small cottage near the beach in Kent – but knowing I’ve had something to look forward to since I first booked at the beginning of September has been one of the main things getting me through this period.

“The idea of a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown – with stay-at-home orders and restrictions on travel – means I’d have to cancel my break. As someone who moved back home during the pandemic and hasn’t been able to see many friends at all, I’m scared that the one ounce of ‘fun’ I had planned in 2020 isn’t even going to happen.

“I know it sounds selfish, but I’m secretly willing that the government doesn’t put a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown in place – at least until I’m back from my long-awaited escape.”

You may also like

Frustrated and overwhelmed by ever-changing Covid rules? You’re not alone

“If the science is saying a complete lockdown will help us reset, then surely it’s worth it?”

Digital writer Hollie Richardson says: “After four months of constant worry during the first lockdown, I actually managed to enjoy a fun summer by taking advantage of the freedoms we were given. I always knew a second wave was ahead, and that another lockdown was very possible, so I allowed myself to step away from the constant coronavirus fear, guilt-free, for a few months.

“But now, I can see the cases are rising, the death tolls are being reported again and hospitals are filling up. I’m feeling that same fear I had when the pandemic first broke out. If the science is saying a complete lockdown will help us reset, then surely it’s worth it? It makes sense in my mind.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to the pub and eating out – but that’s because the government is allowing it. Perhaps, instead of this really confusing three-tier system, I just need my PM to firmly say: ‘You have to stay indoors for a few weeks’. 

“Of course, I’m talking from a place of privilege: I can work from home, I don’t have kids to look after and I have a flat to keep warm in. But I’d like to think that the government, and all of us, have learned from the first lockdown to make sure this is as easy on people and businesses as possible. 

“At least this time we have a time limit on it (although, admittedly, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they kept extending it again). And it might actually be quite nice to have an excuse to stay in and binge all the new Netflix boxsets.”

You may also like

Psychology: you’re not the only one feeling “meh” right now – this theory explains why

For now, it looks like we’re sticking to the three-tier system, but the prime minister hasn’t completely ruled out a future national lockdown. Whatever happens, it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together and to look after your mental health. 

You can find information and support on looking after mental health during the coronavirus pandemic on Mind charity’s website. 

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Getty