From no to go: how Johnson's position on an England lockdown shifted

Mattha Busand Molly Blackall
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: House of Commons/PA</span>
Photograph: House of Commons/PA

Boris Johnson has relented to pressure from the government’s scientific advisers to impose another full lockdown in England, following warnings that the virus could kill 85,000 people this winter and local measures were not sufficient.

After describing the move as “the height of absurdity” that would “turn the lights out” just 10 days ago, the prime minister announced on Saturday that new restrictions – including the closure of pubs and restaurants, and a ban on most international travel – would come in on Thursday and remain in place until 2 December. Here is how he changed his tune.

16 September: The prime minister tells MPs that a second national lockdown would have “disastrous” financial consequences for the country and that the government would do “everything in our power to prevent it”. He sympathised with critics of the government concerned over infringements on civil liberties, but said: “We must defeat this disease.”

19 September: Following the introduction of the rule-of-six restrictions, Johnson said the UK was beginning to see the onset of an “inevitable” second wave and suggested the government would have to go further.

21 September: Ministers were advised by Sage to urgently introduce a two-week “circuit-breaker” lockdown to reduce the spread of coronavirus, since the UK faced a “very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences” on its current course. The seven-day average of daily cases stood at 4,964; there were 1,502 Covid patients in hospital and daily deaths stood at 28.

12 October: Johnson announced a three-tier system, dividing England in areas with medium (tier 1), high (tier 2) or very high (tier 3) coronavirus alert levels. He said that the social and economic trauma of a full lockdown “shuttering our lives and our society … would do such damage to our economy as to erode our long-term ability to fund the NHS and other crucial public services”.

13 October: After news breaks that the government chose not to follow advice from Sage, Keir Starmer calls for the government to “follow the science” and impose a circuit-breaker of between two and three weeks to prevent a “sleepwalk into … a bleak winter”.

Daily cases were 16,228, there were 5,030 Covid patients in hospital, and 108 daily deaths.

14 October: The prime minister tells Starmer in the Commons that he sought to “avoid the misery of another national lockdown” and attacked what he described as opportunism from the opposition party. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, also declared that a second national lockdown could irreparably damage the economy.

16 October: During a press conference, Johnson said he “cannot rule anything out”, but expressed his desire to avoid a national lockdown because of “the damaging health, economic and social effects it would have”.

21 October: Johnson again attacks the idea of a second national lockdown, condemning it as “the height of absurdity” that would “turn the lights out”. He said it would cause “psychological and emotional damage”.

29 October: The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, argues once again that the government does not want to introduce a second national lockdown because of fears that it could be “immensely destructive” for the country.

30 October: Government scientists warn that a two-week circuit-breaker is not enough to contain the spread of the virus, saying a longer lockdown is required. However, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, declares that a national lockdown would be damaging to the economy and would create “uncertainty”.

There were 21,915 daily cases, 10,918 patients in hospital, and 326 deaths.