Did Boris Johnson Actually ‘Hint’ At Local Lockdowns Or Are We Panicking For No Reason?

The prime minister is exploring local measures in tackling the new 'variant of concern'.

Woman looking out window

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

After months of optimism and successful vaccine roll-out, a dreaded headline has returned to the press: 'Boris Johnson hints at local lockdowns'. Cue a chorus of national groaning.

It follows the arrival of a new coronavirus variant in the UK, the result of the devastating spread of Covid-19 in India - which the World Health Organisation has dubbed a ‘variant of concern’ due to its increased transmissibility – and the government is said to be exploring options that limit the impact this new variant has on the British public.

In fact, Boris Johnson gave a press conference today stating that the variant poses a 'real risk of disruption' to the roadmap. He confirmed that stage three of lockdown easing would go ahead on Monday, but that it remains to be seen whether we can continue with stage four on June 21st.

'I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June,' the prime minister stated. He said that the vaccine roll-out will be accelerated for over 50s, with second doses now due after eight weeks instead of 12, and encouraged people living in Blackburn and Bolton - areas with higher cases of the new variant - to participate in surge testing.

Reports state that members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) met today to discuss the variant, with experts explaining that the next week will be crucial in determining just how much more transmissible this variant is compared to others.

‘At the moment there is a very wide range of scientific opinion about what could happen,’ Boris Johnson said in a statement earlier this week. ‘We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do. There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out.’

When asked if that meant local lockdowns could return, he didn’t explicitly say the government were considering it - but he didn’t rule it out either.

‘There are a range of things we could do, we want to make sure we grip it,’ Johnson said. ‘Obviously there’s surge testing, there’s surge tracing. If we have to do other things, then of course the public would want us to rule nothing out.’

Of course, that doesn't mean local lockdowns are imminent. And yet, some of us are already worried. This morning, 'Boris Johnson local lockdown' was a breakout search term on Google Trends with 'Bedford local lockdown' and 'local lockdown north west' also trending.

So, is this just a case of sensationalism then, or is the prospect of local lockdowns in summer a real possibility?

Will Boris Johnson impose local lockdowns or a summer lockdown?

Well, with so little known about the new variant, it’s impossible to know how the government will react until more research is done. Previously, they’ve prioritised opening the economy back up over health, but in the latest roadmap out of lockdown it was clear that a more cautious approach was being taken compared to last year.

We know that one of the previous variant of concern, that came from South Africa, also caused panic about lockdown returning – and yet surge testing and tracing managed to keep cases at bay. So, while it’s normal to fear a new variant putting a stop to our summer plans – it’s also worth remembering that nothing is set in stone, and there are numerous ways to deal with increased risks.

What we know for sure is that Johnson wants to avoid another national lockdown at all costs – although if it’s necessary it’s of course something we should all support. That’s where the idea of local lockdowns has returned though.

‘At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday,’ Johnson stated. ‘But there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get.’

What is a local lockdown?

Again, that doesn’t mean local lockdown – but perhaps local surge testing, as was implemented to fight the variant from South Africa. That seems to be what Johnson reiterated during his speech today, noting the importance of testing in areas of concern.

Even if local lockdowns did have to be imposed though, it's unclear what their nature would be. Whether or not another tiered system would be implemented across the UK, or it would just be a case of certain boroughs being on stay-at-home orders remains to be seen and largely depends on how cases increase based on the new variant.

What is clear from all of this though is that the government needs to do more to embrace a global approach to handling coronavirus. If we wish to avoid more local restrictions, we need to help those countries that don’t have the same infrastructure we do in providing free, quality healthcare and vaccinations in particular. If the variant from India does result in local lockdowns across England, and the British government’s only support for India was sending 1,650 bits of kit – which they did at the height of the crisis there by the way, when over 200,000 had already died – that could be the much bigger scandal.

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