England’s new Covid rules ‘too little, too late’ for the second time | Health

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Scientific advisers to the government have warned that pub curfews and other new measures in England will fail to stop the exponential spread of Covid-19, as sources confirmed that ministers have departed from their “follow the science” mantra.

A member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), who did not wish to be named, told the Guardian that “the scientific advice is that stronger restrictions should apply overall”, but said a “delicate balance” had to be struck between tighter measures and achieving good compliance.

The new rules, announced by Boris Johnson on Tuesday, urge people to work from home if they can, while pubs and restaurants will close at 10pm, weddings will be limited to 15 people and shop and hospitality staff will be required to wear face masks. While Scotland and Northern Ireland have banned different households from meeting indoors, England’s restrictions are more relaxed, banning only groups of more than six.

Prof Cath Noakes, a member of Sage at Leeds University, did not comment on the group’s advice to ministers but, speaking in a personal capacity, said she doubted the new measures would prevent an exponential rise in coronavirus cases over the coming months.

“I think it’s unlikely the measures will be sufficient to bring the R back down below 1. I don’t think they will cut it,” she said. The R value of the epidemic is the number of people, on average, that an infected person infects. When R is above 1, the epidemic is growing.

Noakes, a specialist in the transmission of airborne infections, said closing the pubs at 10pm still allowed people to meet up in groups of six and spend several hours together without wearing masks before going back to their families. “It doesn’t bode well,” she said.

Though not in favour of banning all contact between different households because of the impact on people’s mental health, she suggested tightening existing rules. “You can have five people in your home today, and a different five tomorrow. It is quite loose. The more networking we have, the more likely the virus is to spread,” she said.

The new measures, considered too light-touch by many scientists, were announced after the government called on advice from experts beyond Sage, including Prof Sunetra Gupta at Oxford University, who believed too much weight had been given to worst-case scenarios in planning the UK’s response. According to the Spectator magazine, ministers also consulted Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who was behind that country’s more voluntary lockdown.

Noakes’s concerns echoed those of Prof John Edmunds, who is also on Sage, and is head of the faculty of epidemiology and population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Edmunds told the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday that he feared, for the second time, the government was doing too little, too late.

“Overall, I don’t think the measures have gone anywhere near far enough. In fact, I don’t even think the measures in Scotland have gone far enough,” he said.

The failure to bring in stricter measures raised the chances that even tougher rules would be needed later, he said. “I suspect we will see very stringent measures coming into place throughout the UK at some point, but it will be too late again. We will have let the epidemic double and double and double again until we do take those measures.”

Prof Peter Openshaw, who sits on the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats advisory group, which feeds into Sage, told BBC Radio 5 Live he believed a ban on households mixing indoors in England could be announced “very soon”. “I would think if we wait two or three weeks, it will be too late. It ought to be instituted sooner rather than later,” he said.

While the latest rise in cases began in younger age groups, Noakes said infections would inevitably spread into older, more vulnerable groups. “As the cases rise, we would expect to see more deaths, but also more people who are sick, off work, more people who have long-term effects, and more people who require hospital care. All of that will stretch our health system,” she said.

“Even if the cases are within a younger age group, as long as it’s growing, eventually it will spill over into older, more vulnerable groups. You cannot isolate people forever, it’s virtually impossible.”

Source: The Guardian
Keyword: England’s new Covid rules ‘too little, too late’ for the second time | Health

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