Covid-19: What do scientists consider the PM’s plan?

Boris Johnson arriving back at Downing Street Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Boris Johnson revealed his plan earlier this week

After dangling the potential of a mini-lockdown to interrupt coronavirus’s chain of transmission, Boris Johnson has opted for a a lot softer technique.

The new Covid restrictions for England – which permit pubs and eating places to stay open and households to proceed mixing – have been met by scientists with responses starting from reward to despair.

Dame Anne Johnson, a professor of infectious illness epidemiology at University College London, mentioned it was important to behave shortly to cease the expansion within the epidemic. While she is “pleased” to see quick motion and recognises the problem in balancing the dangers of viral unfold with different “collateral damage”, Prof Johnson says there are issues it is not going to work.

It could also be that reinforcing the necessity for individuals to restrict their contacts with others will likely be sufficient to vary the virus’s course. If not, although, choices to implement stricter rules would must be made in a short time.

“We have to find out whether this is working very fast,” she mentioned.

Stop the virus in its tracks?

If you have a look at the transmission of the virus alone, it is clear that the stricter the lockdown, the higher. Scientists on this camp fear the brand new measures are “too little, too late”.

Government adviser Prof John Edmunds instructed BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the brand new measures had not gone “anywhere near far enough”.

“We have to put stringent measures in place and it’s really important that we [do so] as fast as possible. If we don’t then the epidemic doubles, and doubles again. And then it doubles again and so on.

Prof Edmunds believes tighter curbs will happen across the UK “sooner or later however will probably be too late once more… after which we’ll have the worst of each worlds”. At that stage, in order to “gradual the epidemic and convey it again down once more”, restrictions will have to be harder and stay in place for longer, he said.

CURRENT EXPLAINERS (Updated headlines 02/09/20)

But Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said if controlling the epidemic was the only important thing, “we would return to the scenario within the final week of March”. The downside, he said, would be depriving our children of another six months of their education.

“We have to steer a course that minimises economic system and academic harms whereas suppressing the virus as a lot as potential,” he said.

He says that the new measures are unlikely to be enough to bring the epidemic back into decline, though they may make a dent in transmission.

“Is this going to manage the virus so it would not carry on growing? Very clearly no,” he said. “But the query is, will it make it improve extra slowly?”

What’s uncertain is how much cases will rise by, and whether protecting vulnerable people will prove possible.

Prioritising jobs – and schools

Prof Carl Heneghan at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine goes further.

Before the new restrictions were published, Prof Heneghan jointly signed a letter to the prime minister describing the idea of suppressing coronavirus as “more and more unfeasible”.

And, he said, it was leading to “important hurt throughout all age teams, which seemingly offsets any advantages”.

Instead, Prof Heneghan believes it’s time to control the spread rather than suppress it, and accept that cases will rise.

Crucially, he’s not disagreeing with his colleagues on the science here. His comments accept a stricter lockdown would bring down cases, at least for a while. And looser restrictions would allow them to rise. But he believes the goal now is to “minimise social disruption” while managing the virus.

If the government rushes into “extra measures,” he says, “we’ll speak ourselves again right into a lockdown which, for a complete society, is massively disruptive”.

What about the NHS?

All along, one of the big motivations for keeping cases low has been the need to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed. In spring, this meant closing down non-Covid services to prioritise fighting the virus and preventing the spread of infection.

But another fear soon emerged – that the harm from missed cancer operations, screenings and other types of care could offset the benefits of lockdown. Now, doctors’ bodies are calling for restrictions to keep cases low, this time in order to also keep other services running.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England said it was essential surgery continued through the winter, unlike during the first coronavirus peak. Its president, Prof Neil Mortensen, said: “The prime minister was proper yesterday to emphasize the significance of defending probably the most susceptible in care properties and hospitals.

“Thankfully, surgery has been able to safely start up again in many parts of the UK… [and] we must keep surgery going safely through the winter months, or tens of thousands will die from other preventable causes,” he mentioned.

“So it’s a shared responsibility to help keep Covid rates low.”

But the British Medical Association’s chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul referred to as on authorities to go additional.

While it was “encouraging that the government has, at last, recognised the need for more stringent measures to control the virus’s spread” he mentioned, there have been a “a number of further actions which the government could take to prevent a second peak,” together with stopping an infinite variety of households mixing.

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