No10 forced to deny claims of two-week nationwide lockdown plan

Downing Street is forced to deny claims it is planning for a nationwide two-week lockdown – as academic ‘clarifies’ Tweet that said Prof Chris Whitty was calling for the move

  • Professor Anthony Costello, a former WHO director, made claim on Wednesday
  • But he later rowed back on the claim after it was fiercely denied by Number 10
  • A Whitehall source was unequivocal in describing the suggestion as ‘b*******’

Downing Street last night insisted the Government is not preparing to impose a new two-week lockdown on the entire country.

Officials were forced to deny claims the chief medical officer has been pushing for short, sharp nationwide restrictions to tackle the rise in infections.

Professor Anthony Costello, a former director at the World Health Organisation, tweeted: ‘I’m hearing from a well-connected person that government now thinks, in absence of testing, there are 38,000 infections per day.

‘Chris Whitty is advising PM for a two-week national lockdown.’

But he later rowed back on the claim after it was fiercely denied by the Government.

Sir Chris Whitty, pictured, is not pushing for a new two-week national lockdown, contrary to claims made by a former World Health Organisation expert

Anthony Costello, who sits on the independent SAGE panel, made the statement on Twitter on Wednesday evening, adding that daily infections could be as high as 38,000

He wrote: ‘I’m hearing from a well-connected person that government now thinks, in absence of testing, there are 38,000 infections per day. Chris Whitty is advising PM for a two week national lockdown’

A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘We don’t recognise that at all.’

Asked if he could rule out the possibility that it was true, he replied: ‘Yes.’

A Whitehall source went further, describing the claim as ‘b*******’.

Prof Costello later tweeted: ‘I’ve been told by another insider I respect that Chris Whitty does not support a two-week lockdown, so I’m pleased to correct the record.’

In a further clarification, he added: ‘Please note that Chris Whitty has indirectly informed me that this is not his view so I am happy to correct this statement.’

Boris Johnson has made clear his resistance to imposing a second nationwide lockdown. But yesterday it was claimed that, privately, he is worried the public will become increasingly frustrated with restrictions that are kept in place or reintroduced.

The Spectator reported that he warned a friend recently: ‘Wait for the autumn if you think people are restless now.’

Earlier this week, Mr Johnson said that a second national lockdown would be likely to have ‘disastrous’ financial consequences.

But he later rowed back on the claim, writing: ‘I’ve been told by another insider I respect that Chris Whitty does not support a two-week lockdown, so I’m pleased to correct the record’

At the Commons liaison committee on Wednesday, the Prime Minister was asked by Conservative MP Julian Knight, chairman of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, whether the UK could afford another national lockdown.

Mr Johnson replied: ‘I don’t want a second national lockdown – I think it would be completely wrong for this country and we are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.

‘And can we afford it? I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous, but we have to make sure that we defeat the disease by the means that we have set out. So when I see people arguing against the rule of six or saying that the Government is coming in too hard on individual liberties and so on – I totally understand that and I sympathise with that, but we must, must defeat this disease.’

During a visit to Scotland yesterday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for ministers to sort out problems with testing in order to prevent the need for another nationwide lockdown.

He said: ‘I certainly hope not to go into a generalised lockdown but really it depends on government action, both here in Scotland and across the UK, to deal much more effectively with things like testing.’

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