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Coronavirus Breakers and Hearth Outbreaks: What Are They And Do They Work?

A man wears a face mask as he walks past a souvenir shop in Wales on October 19, 2020 in Cardiff, Wales. Wales will go into national lockdown from Friday to November 9th.

Matthew Horwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The term "breaker" has become commonplace in the UK over the past few weeks as the country looks for a way to contain the second wave of coronavirus in a short, sharp manner.

The term was coined by UK government academic advisors who recommended a two or three week "mini-lock". These time-limited strict restrictions are intended to act as a "breaker" on the rate of infection the name implies.

Northern Ireland was the first part of the United Kingdom to announce that a "circuit breaker" lockdown would begin on October 16 and would last for two weeks. Meanwhile, Wales announced a similar lockdown on Monday, which will go into effect on Friday and last until November 9th.

Speaking at a press conference, Wales' Prime Minister Mark Drakeford said the mini-lockdown, which he described as a "fire break," "would be a quick, sharp shock to turn the clock back, slow the virus and give us more time procure. ""

Scotland has already tightened restrictions and is reportedly considering a breaker while the UK government has still not decided whether England should impose a mini-lock during next week's school holidays.

What are circuit breakers?

Circuit breakers are essentially interlocks, but only for a limited time. They should break the chain of infection and reduce the infection rate. It is hoped that circuit breakers will help ease the pressure on healthcare providers from hospitalizations due to the rise in Covid-19.

This is crucial for the UK, which has the third highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe. According to the Johns Hopkins University, the number currently stands at just over 744,000 cases with 43,816 deaths. It is currently battling a dramatic second wave of infections, like the rest of Europe, particularly in northern England.

18,804 new daily infections were reported on Monday, up from 16,982 on Sunday. The average number of cases over seven days on October 16 was 17,649, up from 14,588 the week before, according to government figures.

Scholars advising the government seem to favor breakers, as does the opposition Labor Party, both of which are encouraging the government to put in place a mini-lock.

Papers released last week showed that the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) – a group of leading academics who provide scientific advice to the UK government in times of crisis – advised the government to limit the restrictive measures it was implementing (e.g. restricting social gatherings to six people and forced to close bars and restaurants at 10 p.m.).

They first proposed a "breaker" or mini-lock a month ago and recommended banning households from indoor mixing and closing all bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, and hairdressers – essentially a short-term replay of the full lock earlier in Year.

Do you work?

Circuit breaker advocates argue that while they fail to stop a virus, they can stifle the spread of infection and give governments and health systems time to act. But while public health experts might stand up for them, business owners fear a return to lockdown.

However, experts agree that circuit breakers can play a role in containing an epidemic.

Steven Riley, Professor of Infectious Disease Dynamics at Imperial College London, said during a televised debate on Sunday about the merits of a short-term lockdown, "We need tighter restrictions if we are to reduce the number of infections."

Matt Morgan, a consultant in the intensive care unit at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, has warned that the UK healthcare system could be "on its knees" without action. He told CNBC that while he is not an epidemiologist and cannot comment on the effectiveness of a circuit breaker, action is needed to take the pressure off hospitals.

"What I do know is that the NHS struggles every winter, so if steps are not taken to reduce the impact of Covid on all aspects of health care it can become unmanageable," he said.

However, circuit breakers are not that simple. In the same discussion, Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh added that due to the delay effect between infection and hospitalization for people with Covid-19, the effectiveness of a brief lockdown remains to be seen.

"We'd have to wait until there were signs that the case numbers were going down. This is why the testing and tracking system and surveillance is really important – to see how many people are actually infected with the virus. If you wait, leave Focus on hospitalizations and deaths, then it's too late … they are delay indicators and we need leading indicators, "she said.

Even so, she said a mini-lock in England was now inevitable. "It's like a fire raging. You can't just turn your back on it and think it's going to go away."

A YouGov poll for Sky News published on Monday found that 67% of 1,781 respondents polled between October 15-16 support a breaker lockout.

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