British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has brushed aside the advice of an influential group of scientists to put the economy on hold for a short period in an attempt to stop a surge in coronavirus cases.
The recommendation, contained in newly released minutes of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies or Sage, has fueled debate in the UK over whether Mr Johnson’s administration is doing enough to avert a second wave of the pandemic.
On Monday, Mr Johnson ordered the closure of pubs and gyms in the city of Liverpool, which are part of a new three-tier system of restrictions on places hardest hit by the virus. However, he has resisted pressure to impose what is known as a “breaker” lockdown – a brief national shutdown to halt the exponential rise in infections – and said it would create excessive economic and social costs.
In the minutes of his September 21 meeting, posted online late Monday evening, Sage recommended a brief lockdown as one of several measures to halt the warning of a “very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences.” The scientists also advised closing restaurants, gyms and hairdressers, pushing people to work from home, and moving universities to distance learning. And they expressed doubts about the effectiveness of one of Mr Johnson’s measures: pubs and restaurants to close at 10 p.m.
The lockdown policy is fraught with problems for Mr Johnson. He has long been committed to being guided by scientific advice. But he faces stiff opposition from members of his own Conservative Party, as well as local and regional officials in the north of England, who claim the measures are crippling their economies.