Don't lock Britain down again, plead business chiefs, MPs and medics

Don’t lock Britain down again, plead business chiefs, MPs and medics who warn the economic devastation could last 30 years and bankrupt the nation

  • Fears of a second lockdown are growing as infections continue to rise in the UK
  • Scientists have warned that up to 85,000 people could die in a second wave
  • The FTSE 100 fell to its lowest in six months as threat of new curbs grows 

Business leaders, campaigners and MPs last night pleaded with Boris Johnson to resist a devastating new lockdown.

They warned that it would wreak economic carnage and devastate thousands of businesses. It came as scientists said up to 85,000 could die in a second virus wave.

With Emmanuel Macron announcing a new national lockdown for France, the FTSE 100 plunged to its lowest point in six months as the threat of stricter curbs sent shockwaves through the City.

Business leaders, campaigners and MPs last night pleaded with Boris Johnson to resist a devastating new lockdown

Julian Metcalfe, the founder of Pret and Itsu, said another lockdown would be ‘impossible’, adding: ‘Society will not recover if we do it again to save a few thousand lives of very old or vulnerable people. 

‘The young people of this country will be paying for this for the next 20 to 30 years. It’s terrible what’s happening. Just because France does this with its socialist government, doesn’t mean we have to.’

As a new alliance of scientific experts warned against an ‘increasingly panic-ridden’ response to the pandemic, which could see vital treatment for other medical conditions postponed, scientists dramatically ramped up pressure for a circuit breaker-style lockdown, or even a return to full national curbs. 

Julian Metcalfe, the founder of Pret and Itsu, pictured with wife Brooke De Ocampo, said another lockdown would be ‘impossible’,

On a dramatic day:

  • Mr Macron announced a second national lockdown for at least the whole of November;
  • Germany announced a four-week shutdown of restaurants, bars and theatres;
  • Another 310 coronavirus deaths were recorded in the UK, but the daily number of cases dropped week-on-week for the first time in a month;
  • It emerged that up to 10 per cent of the population could be tested for coronavirus every week after government officials asked local health chiefs to deploy 30-minute saliva kits;
  • Figures showed that fewer than 20 people aged under 40 have died from coronavirus since the second wave began; 
  • NHS bosses said hospitals in some parts of England were treating more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the pandemic;
  • A Cabinet minister warned that the Government was prepared to prevent large families meeting at Christmas, while a police chief advised families to avoid making plans;
  • A major study said up to 50,000 cases of cancer had gone undiagnosed during the pandemic and the NHS could take two years to recover;
  • Police said members of the public had a ‘civic duty’ to inform on neighbours and businesses flagrantly breaching virus restrictions.

A leaked Sage committee document yesterday revealed that ministers had been told to prepare for a ‘worst-case scenario’ of 85,000 deaths this winter in a second wave, with 500 deaths a day for at least three months and more than 300,000 people hospitalised.

Hotelier Sir Rocco Forte said  a circuit breaker would be a complete disaster that would bankrupt industries

Meanwhile, a Government-commissioned study suggested that nearly one million people in England were currently infected with coronavirus – and that the country stood at a ‘critical point’. The Imperial College London research said there were an estimated 96,000 new infections a day, cases were doubling every nine days and the national R rate was up to 1.6.

It suggested the virus is spreading fast in the South of England and urgent action was needed to bring it under control.

The Mail has been told that ministers are looking at the possibility of tightening Tier Three restrictions in many areas, which could include ordering the closure of restaurants.

More than a million people living in Nottinghamshire are to be plunged into the toughest Tier Three rules from tomorrow, with tattoo parlours, tanning and nail salons, piercing services, museums and galleries all ordered to close.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly stated his determination to avoid a return to the ‘nuclear deterrent’ lockdown that shut down Britain in the spring. But fears are growing that the pressure from Mr Johnson’s scientific advisers will prove overwhelming if cases continue to rise.

Charlie Mullins, the former Tory donor who runs Pimlico Plumbers, warned the country cannot afford another lockdown

Business chiefs last night urged caution. Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the CBI, said that while public health came first, there could be ‘no hiding from the potentially devastating impact on firms and individuals if Tier Three is rolled out nationally’.

Hotelier Sir Rocco Forte added: ‘A circuit breaker would be a complete disaster. The industry is already at death’s door. It would bankrupt industry and bankrupt the Government.’

Fears of more crippling lockdowns sparked a rout on global stock markets yesterday, dragging shares in Britain’s biggest companies to the lowest level since April.

Yesterday, business groups and company bosses joined Tory MPs in northern seats in urging the Prime Minister to resist calls to extend curbs by shutting shops and restaurants, or to bring in a national ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown.

John O’Reilly, chief executive of Rank Group, which owns 77 Mecca bingo halls and 51 Grosvenor casinos, said: ‘For hospitality businesses like ours, this is death by a thousand cuts. The long lockdown, local restrictions, the 10pm curfew and now renewed lockdowns through Tier Three are causing enormous economic damage to businesses.’

Roger Barker, director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said: ‘Full-scale lockdowns are a painful prospect for business. Controlling the virus is crucial for the long-term health of the economy, but there’s no denying the challenges that Covid restrictions represent for many firms.’

Ian Cass, managing director of small business group the Forum of Private Business, said: ‘If Tier Three were introduced across England, then many business owners will be asking themselves whether they are better off closing down for good and walking away.’

Charlie Mullins, the former Tory donor who runs Pimlico Plumbers, warned: ‘The Government is not in the real world – they don’t understand businesses and they need to listen.’

He added: ‘We can’t afford to do another national lockdown. The Government’s got it all wrong – we can’t keep trying to hide from the virus, we need to find a way to work with it. Boris has lost his bottle and it’s all an overreaction.’

Luke Johnson, former chairman of Pizza Express, said: ‘There is obsessive maniacal focus on Covid cases and deaths, but not on the collateral damage of lockdown – business are failing, unemployment and suicide are rising, and heart problems and other treatments not being dealt with.

‘It is very easy for those on the public sector payroll, members of Sage, civil servants, politicians and local authority staff to arbitrarily commit to lockdowns, because they personally will never face the prospect of losing their job because of it.

‘If you’ve grown a business over 20 years, put your life and soul and home on the line only to see your entire life’s work and all those destroyed, it’s a bleak experience. But that is the prospect facing an increasing number of entrepreneurs.

‘It’s truly heart-breaking.’

Environment Secretary George Eustice said there was ‘no point having a lockdown in those parts of the country where the incidence of the disease is very low’

Some 55 Tory MPs in the newly formed Northern Research Group this week wrote to the PM to demand that he draws up an exit plan for how areas can get rid of restrictions. A senior figure in the group last night said its members would ‘lose our s**t’ if ministers gave in to demands to close more businesses such as restaurants.

Downing Street last night insisted the Prime Minister was sticking to his strategy of controlling the virus through local lockdowns. A spokesman said: ‘As a responsible government, we continue to prepare for a wide range of scenarios, including the reasonable worst-case scenario.’

Environment Secretary George Eustice said there was ‘no point having a lockdown in those parts of the country where the incidence of the disease is very low’.

But he was unable to give a timeframe for how long tiered restrictions were expected to last. 

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