Lockdown end: SAGE scientist warns lifting measures in February ‘disaster’ for UK and NHS
Lockdown easing would be a ‘disaster’ says SAGE expert
The lockdown is set to remain in place at least until February 15, when the Government will undertake a review of the infection rate to decide whether a return to Tier 4 and Tier 3 restrictions is appropriate. While the latest data has shown a decrease in new coronavirus cases from the week starting on January 4 to the next, Boris Johnson has maintained caution will remain at the heart of his strategy. Epidemiologist Prof John Edmunds however warned lifting the lockdown next month would be a “disaster” for the country due to the impact on the NHS and the population.
Speaking to the Today programme on Saturday, Prof Edmunds said: “I think it would be a disaster if we removed restrictions in, say, the end of February when we have gone through this first wave of the vaccination.
“First of all vaccines aren’t ever 100% protective, and so even those that have been vaccinated would be still at some risk.
“Secondly, it is only a small fraction of the population who would have been vaccinated and if you look at the hospitalisations at the moment, about half of them are in the under-70s, and they are not in the first wave to be vaccinated.”
The epidemiologist, who is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advising the Government on how to best handle the pandemic, also admitted it would be “unusual” if a new variant of the virus originating in Brazil had not already reached the UK.
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The Brazil mutation fuelled concerns among leading scientists across the UK and resulted in a complete ban on all flights from South America to Great Britain.
The Government also banned flights from Portugal and Cape Verde on Thursday in response to the emergence of the new variant, having previously banned travel from South Africa because of a new Covid strain.
In addition, all quarantine-free travel into the UK will be suspended on Monday in a bid to keep out other variants.
Prof Edmunds continued: “In terms of the South African one, we had imported cases already by the time we put in additional restrictions for South African travellers.
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“For the Brazilian one… I don’t think there is evidence that we’ve imported cases of the Manaus strain, as far as I’m aware at least, but it is likely that we probably have quite honestly.
“We are one of the most connected countries in the world so I would find it unusual if we hadn’t imported some cases into the UK.”
Fellow epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said there are “real causes of concern” with the Brazilian mutation as it is currently unclear whether the strain could pose a risk to people who have developed immunity after contracting an earlier variant of the virus.
Prof Ferguson said: “In terms of the South African one, we had imported cases already by the time we put in additional restrictions for South African travellers.
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“There are real causes for concern about one of the Brazilian variants.
“What we’ve seen with this virus in recent months, both with the UK variant and the South African variant and this one Brazilian variant is completely independent strains of the virus get the same changes, mutate in the same way.
“That’s indicative that the virus is adapting – just by random chance – but is adopting the same path because it gives the virus an advantage.”
He added: “One of the changes, Position 501 and the spike protein we have in this country, and it probably is associated with greater transmissibility.
“There is a change to the virus seen in Brazil, Position 484, which we fear may significantly affect the ability of pre-existing immunity in people who have been infected in the past from fighting off that new strain, it may affect the efficacy of vaccines.
“So it really is a threat – we don’t know the details yet, the experiments are still being done.”
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