Boris Johnson’s medical and science chiefs have both warned that Britain will continue to be plagued by coronavirus until next spring.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance appeared alongside the Prime Minister at today’s Downing Street briefing as Mr Johnson unveiled a relaxation of lockdown rules.
The PM said he wanted to ‘make life easier’ after an ‘incredibly tough time’ with bars, restaurants, cinemas and hairdressers in England able to get back up and running from July 4 – dubbed ‘Super Saturday’.
He also announced the relaxation of the two metre social distancing rule, cutting it back to one metre.
However, his advisers warned that there is no evidence of the virus burning itself out and added that it is ‘crucial’ Britons do not go back to ‘life as normal’ and continue following the guidelines.
It comes as leading medics warned that there is a very ‘real risk’ of a second wave of coronavirus striking the UK, adding that the Government must start to prepare for it now.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned that it is absolutely critical people stick to the guidance that has been given
Sir Patrick Vallance said it was ‘extremely unlikely’ that the virus would ‘burn itself out and disappear’
. A group of friends on a day trip from Southampton celebrate the news that pubs can reopen
Prof Whitty cautioned: ‘We will be in for really quite a long haul.’
In a stark message, he explained: ‘If people hear a distorted version of what’s being said, that says ”this is all fine now, it’s gone away” and start behaving in ways that they normally would have before this virus happened, yes, we will get an uptick for sure.
‘It is absolutely critical people stick to the guidance that has been given, it’s a changed guidance for there are still very significant restrictions socially and there are very significant restrictions on business of different sorts.’
On the changes to the two-metre rule, Prof Whitty said it was a ‘balance of risk’.
‘I think that this is a reasonable balance of risk,’ he said, but it was ‘absolutely not risk free’.
He also predicted that the country could have to cope with Covid-19 into 2021: ‘I would be surprised and delighted if we weren’t in this current situation through the winter and into next spring.
‘I expect there to be a significant amount of coronavirus circulating at least into that time and I think it is going to be quite optimistic that for science to come fully to the rescue over that kind of timeframe.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance appeared alongside the Prime Minister at today’s Downing Street briefing
The Prime Minister today announced that Britain’s two-metre social distancing rule would be cut to one metre
The PM said he wanted to ‘make life easier’ after an ‘incredibly tough time’ with bars, restaurants, cinemas and hairdressers in England able to get back up and running from July 4
‘But I have an absolute confidence in the capacity of science to overcome infectious diseases – it has done that repeatedly and it will do that for this virus, whether that is by drugs, vaccines or indeed other things that may come into play.
‘For medium to long term, I’m optimistic. But for the short to medium term, until this time next year, certainly I think we should be planning for this for what I consider to be the long haul into 2021.’
Sir Patrick also said it was ‘extremely unlikely’ that the virus would ‘burn itself out and disappear’, suggesting the battle would stretch into the winter and 2021.
He said the said the Government’s approach to easing the lockdown was ‘reasonable’ but added: ‘It is not risk free. It cannot be risk free.
‘Every time you take a step to open up there is some associated risk with that.’
He added: ‘I think we are with this a long time.
‘We hope that the vaccines and the therapeutics come along soon but there are no guarantees on any of those.’
Mr Johnson said he would not hesitate to put the ‘handbrake’ on if the virus starts to surge again and acknowledged the caution of his advisors.
He said: ‘As for July 4, I hope it will be a great day but obviously, you know, people have got to make sure they don’t over do it.
‘I know Chris (Whitty) is particularly worried about this – we can’t have great writhing scenes in the beer gardens when the virus could be passed on.
‘This has to be done in a sensible way, people should be giving their names to the pubs, to the restaurants, doing things in a way that allows us, if something does happen, to track back, to test and trace and stamp out any outbreak.
‘That’s the absolutely crucial thing. People should of course enjoy themselves but as Chris and Patrick have said, this is going to be with us for a while. We’ve just got to adjust and make it work.’
The PM added, however, that he wants to see people out and about enjoying themselves again.
‘I think it is great to see people out shopping again. Frankly, I can’t wait to go to a pub or a restaurant even if it may not be wholly compatible with the new diet that I’m on.
‘I think people need to go out and enjoy themselves and rediscover things they haven’t been able to do for a long time.
‘I want to see bustle, I want to see activity. But I also want to see everybody being careful, staying alert and following the guidance.
‘As for all the things I’m looking forward to, there is a very long list. I’d love to go to the theatre again, I’d like to go and see The Globe. I’d like to go to a restaurant, frankly. I would love to get my hair cut.’
WHO SIGNED THE LETTER?
- Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons;
- Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists;
- Jeanette Dixon, president of the Royal College of Radiologists;
- Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians;
- Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh;
- Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine;
- Martin Marshall, president of the Royal College of General Practitioners;
- Jo Martin, president of the Royal College of Pathologists;
- Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists;
- Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of council at the British Medical Association;
- Maggie Rae, president of the Faculty of Public Health;
- Anne Marie Rafferty, president of the Royal College of Nursing;
- Jackie Taylor, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow;
- Fiona Godlee, British Medical Journal editor-in-chief;
- Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet;
- Lord Victor Adebowale.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the leaders of all of Britain’s political parties, top doctors have called for a rapid review to prepare the country for another crisis.
Surgeons, doctors, psychiatrists, scientists, nurses, other medical professionals and the editors of Britain’s best medical journals put their names to a letter to officials.
Published in the British Medical Journal, the piece said things needing ‘rapid attention’ are supplies of medical equipment, testing and tracing infrastructure, the disproportionate effect on ethnic minority people, and international co-operation.
They said the Government must get ‘ahead of the curve’ before the virus rebounds and focus on areas of weakness that could be improved while it is in retreat.
The letter comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson today announced that the majority of remaining lockdown rules will be lifted on July 4 with social distancing continuing.
In their letter the experts wrote: ‘Several countries are now experiencing Covid-19 flare-ups.
‘While the future shape of the pandemic in the UK is hard to predict, the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk.
‘Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain.
‘The job now is not only to deal urgently with the wide-ranging impacts of the first phase of the pandemic, but to ensure that the country is adequately prepared to contain a second phase.’
The team said it was ‘crucial’ that a review is carried out so the Government can address exactly what went wrong the first time.
More than 53,000 people are known to have died in this outbreak of the coronavirus in the UK and around 3.3million are thought to have caught the disease (five per cent of the population).
Britain has the worst officially confirmed death toll in Europe, considerably higher than countries like Italy and Spain which were hit earlier.
All political parties should take part in the review and it should not be used to assign blame but to prepare for the future, doctors said.
The letter was signed by members of the royal colleges of surgeons, physicians, psychiatrists, radiologists, emergency medicine, GPs, pathologists, obstetricians and gynaecologists, and nursing. It was co-signed by the editors of the British Medical Journal and The Lancet, and by the British Medical Association.
‘We believe that such a review is crucial and needs to happen soon if the public is to have confidence that the virus can be contained,’ they wrote, adding: ‘We believe this will be essential if the UK is to get ahead of the curve.’
There have been repeated warnings that Britain will face a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Boris Johnson admitted in today’s Downing Street briefing that he expects there to be more outbreaks on at least a local scale.
He said he wouldn’t hesitate to ‘put on the handbrake’ on reimposing lockdown rules if the virus surges out of control again.
Professor David Spiegelhalter, a Cambridge University statistician, said in a briefing earlier that any future outbreaks won’t look like the current one.
He said: ‘It’ll be nothing like what has happened in the past. We’ll shut down so fast, locally – not nationally – there will be local measures taken as we’ve seen in other countries.’
The World Health Organisation warned last week that a second wave of coronavirus could hit this autumn and urged nations to develop successful test and trace programmes.
Dr Hans Kluge, WHO’s European regional director, stressed that contact tracing and quarantining people potentially infected was ‘an essential element’ of strategy.
He said: ‘It’s well possible that when the autumn starts and we have also the seasonal influenza, there is the possibility of a seasonal effect on the virus – but we’re not sure yet – that then we will see a second wave.
‘So the lesson is that we have to implement what we know works – at the core of the strategy is to find as early as possible, isolate, test suspected people from Covid, and if needs be treat them without any stigma or discrimination.
‘At the same time (governments need) to track and quarantine contacts – contact tracing is an essential element of this strategy.
‘But there is no single solution.’
SAGE ADVISER SAYS GOVERNMENT GOT COVID-19 ‘DISASTROUSLY WRONG’
Number 10’s response to coronavirus has been ‘disastrously wrong’, a government scientific adviser dramatically claimed today.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a behavioural scientist on a panel that feeds into SAGE, accused ministers of making bad decisions throughout the crisis.
It is not the first time Boris Johnson and his cabinet have come under fire by leading experts in the outbreak, which statistics show has killed at least 53,000 Brits.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a behavioural scientist on a panel that feeds into SAGE, accused ministers of making ‘bad decisions’ throughout the crisis
Downing Street has been repeatedly criticised for being too slow to ramp up testing, imposing lockdown too late and abandoning contact tracing too early.
Britain has Europe’s worst Covid-19 death toll, with official figures showing almost 43,000 people have died after testing positive for the virus, and more detailed stats putting an extra 10,000 on top of that.
Author Martha Gill wrote in a column in The Times that behavioural scientists ‘led the government directly to a fatal delay in imposing lockdown’, which was finally introduced on March 23.
Ms Gill called for behavioural scientists to be ditched ‘altogether’, accusing them of being ‘lobbyists for their own brand of thinking’.
Professor Reicher said ‘the vast majority’ of experts disagreed with the idea of crisis fatigue and had clashed over it with ministers.
Professor Reicher — based at the University of St Andrews — said in a Twitter thread: ‘They have got things disastrously wrong and they should have listened more to their independent behavioural science advisors.
‘Everything we can do to contain the pandemic, from washing your hands to getting tested to self isolating, has a behavioural dimension.
‘So how do we get the public on board with these things? How do we create a sense of community and mutual responsibility? How do we gain trust?
‘These aren’t arcane academic discussions any more. They are matters of life and death. And there are clear evidence-based suggestions on how to address them.’
He added: ‘By arguing they should be ignored, you undermine the efforts against the pandemic.’
And Professor Reicher said there was an important point raised, asking: ‘Is one view of human behaviour overly dominating in No 10 and has it led to bad decisions?’
He also said that ‘people are resilient, that they can cope with tough times if given adequate information and adequate support’.