Rigby grills Boris Johnson over future Covid-19 restrictions
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The Prime Minister confirmed during a Downing Street press conference on Monday shops, hairdressers and pub beer gardens will reopen in England from April 12 and insisted he planned to stick “like glue” to his roadmap for easing restrictions. The words of optimism from Mr Johnson come despite scientific advisers including Mr Whitty warning completely lifting restrictions could trigger a dangerous new wave of Covid infections, similar to that seen during last spring.
Speaking from Downing Street, the Prime Minister said the move to continue easing restrictions was “fully justified by the data” and that he had seen “nothing” to make him think he would have to “deviate” from the stated plan of scrapping all restrictions from June 21 at the earliest.
But one senior Government figure, cited by Sky News, said there is an increasingly live debate between Mr Johnson, Professor Whitty and the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on how transmission can be kept under control as lockdown restrictions are eased.
The Prime Minister’s leading scientific advisers are reportedly warning him to keep social distancing measures in place for a further year – a move Mr Johnson is firmly against.
The senior Government figure told Sky News: “He wants to get life back to normal,” says one senior government figure. “So he’s prepared to go for the certification and do it for livelihoods.
“If you allow pubs and restaurants to reopen at 40 percent capacity, they’ll go bust anyway, so part of the debate behind closed doors is whether to drop social distancing in return for passports. That’s part of the battle now.”
Professor Whitty has warned coronavirus “will be with us for the foreseeable future”, while Sir Patrick suggested the pandemic could result in long-term changes in behaviour.
Modelling from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) shows while the latest steps in easing lockdown are unlikely to put pressure on the NHS, the proposed relaxing of measures in May and June when social distancing rules are eventually scrapped could see hospital admissions surge to levels seen during January’s winter peak.
The modelling also shows an increase in cases, hospitalisations and deaths as the unlocking continues and transmission from social mixing begins to once again accelerate.
The papers from Sage also warned vaccines “aren’t enough” to completely eradicate coronavirus.
Another paper from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said their forecasts indicated step two of lifting lockdown restrictions “may lead to a small surge of cases and deaths”.
But the experts warned the final stage on June 21, when all restrictions are slated to be lifted, could “lead to a larger surge of cases and deaths comparable to that seen during the first wave”.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine added its findings were “preliminary” and made “pessimistic assumptions” about the later stages of the road map.
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However, scientists at the University of Warwick have concluded a “distinct third wave of infection” would arise due to the current rate of planned unlocking, warning hospital admissions could peak between late July and mid-August.
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick claimed a member of the Spi-M modelling group, which advises the Government, warned “there may well be” a third wave in the UK but probably not as high as some modelling predicts.
He told LBC radio: “I think we do have very high levels of vaccination now, we do need to remember this, we are protecting our vulnerable.
“But the vaccines are not 100% protective so when we switch from an R number less than 1 that we have at the moment, to a lot of mixing later on, we may get a resurgence.
“I don’t expect we will have a resurgence of the same scale that we saw in January.
“So then there needs to be some very serious questions asked. If we do see a rise in cases, if we do start to see hospital occupancy go up a little bit, are we going to put in controls or is it something that we’re just going to try to manage with local testing and so forth?
“I think that’s the question the Government are going to potentially have to answer as we get towards the summer.”
Professor Sir Mark Walport, former chief scientific adviser to the Government, hailed the “very good progress” on the UK’s vaccine rollout programme but warned a third wave of Covid infections are likely if all lockdown restrictions are lifted.
He told BBC Breakfast: “It’s clear that we’re making good progress along the road map, and it’s entirely appropriate that the first set of restrictions are being relaxed, so that makes very good sense indeed.
“But we’re a long way from taking the brakes off completely.
“The vaccine rollout is going incredibly well – we’ve seen deaths fall fairly precipitously, all very good news, but we’ve only got to look across the Channel and see that France currently has over 39,000 new cases a day, so the virus is still very much around and if we take all the brakes off, then it’s quite clear that there is a very substantial risk of a further wave of infection.”
“What the Spi-M modelling has shown is that even with a pretty effective vaccine, it’s not perfect, not everyone will be vaccinated, and there will still be quite a few people by June who aren’t immune, and that creates the setting for potentially another wave.
“It’s likely to be different from the first one because we know that the vaccines are very good at keeping people out of hospital and stopping people dying. And that’s why it’s important to really focus on what the data at the time are actually showing.”
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