Boris Johnson’s interview this afternoon really ought to have carried more significance than it did given the undoubted gravity of the moment.
Behind the scenes, government sources confirm that the PM is weighing up whether he has to introduce national restrictions for a short period of time in the next few weeks.
The idea, they say, a “circuit break” would see schools and work continuing, but curbs on social lives. In a carefully worded statement, Downing Street say merely they now want to avoid any “extended lockdowns”.
The nation urgently wants to know whether it must cancel family gatherings and half term and they can see a government appearing to reach a conclusion that it must.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at her press conference – which feel vital at critical times like today – that more difficult decisions are due in “days”.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said tonight that London cannot wait for the virus to spiral out of control in the capital before introducing restrictions.
But the prime minister was unwilling to say almost anything concrete this afternoon about what is to come.
He knows what is at stake having seen chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance on Wednesday night.
But pushed about what he was thinking about, he brushed it off: “We are looking at it the whole time as soon as we have something to say we will say it.”
He made headlines by saying that Britain is entering a second coronavirus spike, evident from the numbers.
He then curiously went on to say it was inevitable – a far cry from some of the rhetoric earlier in the year and a remark which might prompt some to ask why England isn’t better prepared. He concluded by promising transparency, though without delivering it today.
Asked whether there might be a two week half term for school children, ban on friends visiting each other’s houses in England or anything else, he demured.
The interesting question is why Mr Johnson is quite so reticent.
It appears the prime minister is at the centre of a pincer movement. There are medical and scientific hawks on one side whose job is to reduce exposure and casualties.
They appear to be joined by Health Secretary Matt Hancock who was making clear to Kay Burley on Sky on Friday that a national lockdown is a last line of defence – but stressed everything remains under review.
He used bolder language on a national lockdown than the prime minister was prepared to adopt later on. Also among the hawks are regional and national leaders like Ms Sturgeon, Mr Khan and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, a group which has sometimes set the pace uncomfortably fast for Downing Street.
But on the other side is an increasingly restless party. It is not just Tory backbenchers, many of whom voiced concerns on Thursday. One member of government today told me of their concern new restrictions are being drawn up before the impact of the rule banning more than 6 people meeting anywhere – which was introduced on Monday – could be properly assessed.
Meanwhile a member of Mr Johnson’s cabinet told me that national lockdowns would wreck the economy and questioned how far you could rely on scientists who had changed their tune over the course of the pandemic.
What Britain needed, they suggested, was to allow people to make up their own minds, rather than being subjected to increasingly draconian laws. “We should move in the direction of Sweden,” they added, referring to the country which avoided a national lockdown of the sort seen in many other European countries.
This will be hard for Mr Johnson to do. But his party will make it hard for him to go decisively in the opposite direction too.
Nothing is straightforward for the prime minister.