Elderly may be asked to stay at home under ministers’ blueprint to avoid new lockdown

Most of East Devon could effectively be on indefinite lockdown under these plans.

By Edward Malnick, Sunday Political Editor www.telegraph.co.uk 

Elderly people and others considered to have an increased risk from Covid-19 could be asked to stay at home under radical plans being drawn up to avert a second national lockdown, the Telegraph can disclose.

Boris Johnson has asked officials to prepare a suite of possible measures that could help avoid shutting down the economy for a second time, after he said that he wanted to avoid another lockdown.

The options include a programme of “enhanced” or “differential” shielding, as part of which vulnerable people would be asked to remain at home while the rest of the population continued to move around freely. One proposal is for the shielded group to be allocated specific times of the week to have exclusive access to some services and shops.

The potential measures also include imposing a city-wide lockdown on London if infection rates spike in the capital and tightening quarantine restrictions on those flying into the UK.

A fourth measure comprises “harder” local lockdowns than the restrictions imposed on parts of Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and West Yorkshire, where people from different households were barred from meeting indoors.

The disclosure comes after the Prime Minister announced that he was postponing the planned easing of lockdown measures due to take place this weekend amid heightened concerns about a possible second wave of infections.

Last month Mr Johnson told the Telegraph that the option of a second national lockdown was now akin to a “nuclear deterrent”, saying he “certainly” does not want another blanket shutdown, “and nor do I think we will be in that position again”.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, who helps lead the World Health Organisation’s pandemic response team, urges countries not to reimpose national lockdowns in an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19 due to the health, social and economic repercussions.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph discloses warnings by government advisers that hairdressers and barbers could be inadvertently transmitting Covid-19 to their customers as a result of “inadequate” official guidance stipulating that they should wear visors rather than masks.

Officials from the Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 unit are understood to have suggested an enhanced shielding programme as part of a series of possible alternatives to a national lockdown.

Mr Johnson has now sanctioned the team to develop the options into formal policy proposals.

A senior Whitehall source said: “We are hopeful that fast action, regional lockdowns and quarantines will stop the need for any more substantive action. However we prepare for all scenarios, and officials are currently drawing up an array of policy options to present to the Prime Minister.”

More than two million people in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland who faced the highest risk of being hospitalised by Covid-19 has been asked to shield in their homes until Saturday, to avoid contracting the virus. In Wales, the advice remains in place until August 16.

Under the proposals, a greater number of people would be asked to take part in the shielding programme, based on their age or particular risk factors that have been identified since March.

Government research has found that, among people already diagnosed with Covid-19, people aged 80 or older were 70 times more likely to die than those under 40. Officials have also stated that people with diabetes, heart disease and dementia all appear to be at higher risk of death.

A Government source said: “The shielding list was binary, you’re either on it or you’re not. Now we know more, we can be more sophisticated about it.”

Any proposal to ask people to remain in their homes on the basis of their age would be likely to prompt a significant backlash. Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court judge, has stated that shielding the old and vulnerable until a successful vaccine is developed would amount to “a cruel mockery of basic human values”.

An option believed to be under discussion as part of the proposed scheme is encouraging “shielding afternoons” or “shielding hours” for the most vulnerable to access shops and services without fearing that they could come into contact with those who have been freely moving around. The option comes after supermarkets introduced priority shopping hours for the elderly and vulnerable at the beginning of the national lockdown in March.

Scientists have also suggested that such a programme would require “very intensive screening” of care home staff, hospital medics, and members of a shielded person’s household, to ensure that those coming into contact with them are unlikely to transmit the virus.

An early proposal for enhanced shielding was set out in a paper by University of Edinburgh scientists in April.

They stated: “If Covid-19 was circulating only in the non-vulnerable population then the NHS could easily cope with the levels of mild disease, some hospitalisations and occasional critical care. Numbers of deaths would be low.

“Therefore, if we could greatly reduce the incidence of infection in the vulnerable group the epidemic could be manageable. Shielding is intended to reduce the incidence; to do more we need ‘enhanced shielding.”

Another option under consideration is to prevent Londoners from travelling outside of the M25 in the event of a major spike in the capital. Quarantine measures for travellers landing in the UK could also be increased, on the basis that the first wave in the country began after a significant number of cases were imported from abroad.

The Government is also thought to be considering implementing a national ban on people from different households meeting indoors, in the event that official figures show a continued rise of infections across the country, and test and trace figures suggest that such social contact is partly responsible.

Last week Lord Sumption called for the population to be allowed to make “our own personal risk assessments in the light of our age and state of health and the sort of activities in which we engage.”

Writing in The Telegraph, he stated: “For some people, social distancing will remain a sensible precaution. The rest of us should respect their choice but drop it and get on with our lives. We cannot keep running away.”

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