Downing Street defends 10pm curfew despite criticism from scientists

The 10pm curfew will remain in place despite chaotic scenes as pubs shut and warnings from some scientists advising the Government that it may be doing more harm than good.

Over the weekend, large crowds gathered in city and town centres following the new closing time, which came into force in England on Thursday in an attempt to stem the spread of coronavirus infections.

Long queues were seen outside off-licences as people rushed to buy more alcohol while others piled on to public transport with little or no social distancing.

Coronavirus – Sat Sep 26, 2020
Coronavirus – Sat Sep 26, 2020

Downing Street said the measure struck the “right balance” between protecting the public and allowing pubs and restaurants to continue trading.

Asked if the restriction would be reconsidered, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “No. I would obviously say we keep all of our social distancing measures under review but no there’s nothing in that regard.”

Number 10 also played down the prospect of allowing more flexibility for a staggering of exit times.

The spokesman said: “I’m not aware of anything specific in that regard. The decision to reduce time to 10pm was based on the fact it had been in operation in the local lockdown areas and had been considered to strike the right balance.”

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said he had received reports of supermarkets “absolutely packed out to the rafters” following closing time on Saturday with people rushing to buy more alcohol so they could carry on drinking.

“I think there needs to be an urgent review of the emerging evidence from police forces across the country,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“My gut feeling is that this curfew is doing more harm than good.”

Professor Susan Michie, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said it was always “predictable” that ejecting people on to the streets at the same time would lead to crowds forming.

Prof Michie, a behavioural scientist at University College London, said it was “especially concerning” that people were being pressed together in the confined spaces of public transport and that it was of the “utmost importance” ministers listened to scientific advice.

“These consequences of the curfew undermine the gains saved by shortening the latter part of the evening and may even be counterproductive,” she said.

“The measure is another example of a restriction brought in outwith a coherent strategy and without sufficient consultation with relevant experts and communities.”

Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist who also advises the Government, said it was another example of “patrician policymaking”.

“When were any of those involved in making this decision last in a city centre pub at closing time? The disdain for the night-time economy reflects the puritan streak in public health that has marked so many interventions,” he said.

“Anyone with a basic knowledge of sociology, anthropology, socio-legal studies or criminology would have predicted the transport chaos that Andy Burnham has described – and the street parties that we have seen elsewhere.”

John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation, said police had difficulty dispersing large crowds that gathered with only limited numbers of officers available.

“You might only have one or two people in a busy high street at 10pm when hundreds and hundreds of people are coming out on to the streets,” he told Today.

“My colleagues will do the best they can to encourage and coerce people to move on but it is really difficult.

“All that you need is a hostile group that turns against those officers and the resources for that city centre are swallowed up dealing with that one incident.”