Health

England Covid lockdown could be extended beyond 2 December, says Gove


The England-wide lockdown announced by Boris Johnson on Saturday could be extended beyond 2 December if the infection rate does not fall sufficiently, Michael Gove has said.

When the prime minister announced the new measures in a Saturday night press conference, he said they would end on 2 December. But Gove told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme the measures would be reviewed at the end of the period and could last longer if they had not done enough to contain the spread of the virus.

“We’ve got this four-week period, during which we’re going to review progress, but of course we’ll always be driven by the data,” Gove said. “We will always take a decision in the national interest, based on evidence.” Pressed on whether that meant the measures could be extended, he said “yes”.


The new lockdown marked a sharp reversal from Johnson’s repeated rejections of Labour’s calls for a “circuit-breaker” shutdown.

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, claimed the government’s delay in implementing a lockdown had been economically and socially damaging.

“An earlier lockdown would have been better for health, better for the NHS and better for the economy,” he told Marr. Starmer promised Labour would support the new measures when they were voted on by the House of Commons on Wednesday.


Keir Starmer says schools must remain open in second Covid lockdown – video

Johnson has in recent weeks faced protests from Tory backbenchers sceptical about the necessity for tougher restrictions. Gove’s admission that the lockdown may need to last longer was echoed by Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

Farrar told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show that the 2 December review date was “useful”, but the government should not become fixed on it. We don’t know what the situation is going to be like in the last week of November and the first week of December, we all hope that four weeks is going to be enough,” he said.


If infections, hospital admissions and other key metrics had not fallen sufficiently, he said, “it would be much better to extend this lockdown for another couple of weeks prior to the Christmas period and then loosen the restrictions a little bit over Christmas so that people can meet up with their families”.

“Much better to do that than remove these restrictions and then have to impose even more draconian restrictions over Christmas or soon into the new year.”

Farrar also questioned whether schools – in particular secondary schools, which some studies have suggested play a role in transmission – might need to be closed in future to make a shutdown more effective. But Gove stressed the government’s determination to ensure schools remain open – a view echoed by Starmer, whose circuit breaker call did not include closing schools.

Farrar suggested the regional approach to managing the disease, which involved local deals painstakingly assembled with leaders in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere, was likely to give way to nationwide rules.


However, Gove said ministers were keen to retain the ability to impose regional restrictions, to control regional outbreaks in future. “The regional approach is one that wherever possible we want to take,” he said.

Challenged by Marr about whether the government had made a mistake in failing to implement a lockdown when advised to do so by its own scientific advisers in September – when Starmer was also calling for it – Gove said it was too soon to say.

“I think it is impossible to know definitively until the end of this pandemic, which were the mistakes, and which were the missteps, which were most serious, and something that looks like a mistake at a certain point can actually in retrospect with more evidence have been proven to have been right,” he said.



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