Kate Andrews

Are politicians abandoning the ‘circuit break’?

Are politicians abandoning the 'circuit break'?
Leo Varadkar (photo: Getty)
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How popular are circuit breakers? The latest Covid-19 news from Ireland would suggest support varies dramatically between the scientists and politicians. Speaking on RTE, Leo Varadkar revealed the National Public Health Emergency Team had recommended moving to ‘level 5’, which would have amounted to a ‘circuit break’ and another shutdown of the Irish economy.

Pushing back, Varadkar told the national broadcaster that outstanding questions about the effectiveness of a temporary shutdown could not be answered to his satisfaction: ‘We didn’t feel it had been thought through properly. For example, we asked for some comfort that four weeks might be enough… They weren’t able to give us that comfort.’ This is a question that will likely be asked by leaders across Europe as they are forced to balance measures which can supposedly curb the spread of the virus and the impact they will have on the rebound of their economies: if science and medical advisors are able to say with confidence that a circuit break can work as a one-off solution to tackling Covid-19, that is a different proposition to the prospect of shutting down society again for several weeks, without meaningful change to the trajectory of the virus.

Something similar has happened in Scotland as well. After it was speculated that Nicola Sturgeon could put the country into a circuit breaker as soon as tomorrow, the First Minister confirmed at her daily press conference that no such move – that is, a lockdown similar to what happened in March – is being considered. According to the Scotsman, an update on targeted restrictions is still expected tomorrow. But the rejection of even a temporary circuit break suggests for all the talk of bringing in such a forceful measure, there is currently little political appetite to do so.