It’s hard to believe that these new restrictions will be enough to bring the coronavirus back under control.
The prime minister said in the House of Commons that he hoped they would reduce the R number below one again, protecting lives and the economy.
But we are still dealing with the same virus as we were back in the spring, when each person with COVID-19 infected around three others.
Now the R number is about half that, but rising fast. Cases are doubling every week.
It might have been different if we had an effective test and trace strategy that allowed public health teams to stay one step ahead of the virus.
Government hoping to copy Belgium’s success
Rapid contact tracing and quarantine of suspected cases has controlled the epidemic in Germany and South Korea, but it looks like the virus has probably got away here in the UK.
So, with a vaccine still several months off, social distancing is our best hope of stopping the second wave.
At a briefing earlier this month, England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said Belgium had successfully controlled a surge in cases back in July with “decisive action”.
Like the UK, they reduced the maximum number of people allowed in a group – there it was a rule of five, rather than six.
And in Antwerp, the hotspot of the outbreak, the authorities took action to stop late night socialising by bringing in a curfew.
At 11.30pm everybody had to be at home.
That goes well beyond the early closing of pubs and restaurants in the UK.
Here there is nothing to stop groups of six piling back from the pub to somebody’s house.
So instead of drinking in a monitored public place they’ll be behind closed doors.
PM might have little option but to impose some kind of lockdown
Of course, there is a chance that the renewed restrictions will shake us from the complacency that has allowed the virus to bounce back; that our behaviour will go beyond the new rules and mirror the caution of March.
But it’s pretty unlikely.
Just one in five people asked to self-isolate over the summer actually did so properly.
Many are fed up and simply don’t trust the government.
Against that background the new restrictions might slow the spread of the virus, but not put the epidemic into reverse.
So far deaths have remained low.
But if they start to rise rapidly, as they are in Spain, the prime minister will have little option but to return to the House of Commons to impose some kind of lockdown.