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SAGE told Boris Johnson ‘pre-Covid normality’ impossible

SAGE scientists told the Government a month ago it would not be possible to return to a ‘pre-Covid normality’ without a vaccine or a far better contact tracing system, it emerged today.

In a report submitted to ministers on June 22, scientists advising Number 10 said social distancing will need to be in place until a jab is developed because it would be ‘difficult’ to get NHS Test and Trace up to scratch.

But Boris Johnson appeared to contradict his scientific advisers today when he promised the nation he is aiming for life in the UK to return to something close to normal by this Christmas.

A jab won’t be ready until sometime next year at the earliest, the head of Britain’s vaccine taskforce has warned. And both Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty, two of the government’s top advisers, today said social distancing ‘must continue for a long period of time’.

Writing in the June report, SAGE said it ‘does not believe it is possible to return to a “pre-Covid” normality, without levels of contact tracing and Covid security effectiveness that would be difficult to achieve, without some sort of additional increase in immunity, either through vaccination or infection’.

‘As a result, thought should be given to the triggers for when measures should be reintroduced, what metrics should inform this, and what further data and information may need to be collected,’ it added.

The report was published along with eight other documents by the Government Office for Science, which is headed by Sir Patrick Vallance, England’s chief scientific adviser.

They are among dozens in a tranche of papers presented to SAGE over recent months to help guide ministers through the crisis.

 SAGE believes the country is currently 50 per cent ‘Covid secure’, shown as the grey line. But the percentage of contacts will need to stay below 100 unless the R could rise above 1

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech today that the UK Government was hoping to return the country to something like normality 'possibly in time for Christmas'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech today that the UK Government was hoping to return the country to something like normality ‘possibly in time for Christmas’

SAGE estimates that NHS Test and Trace currently prevents about 20 per cent of new coronavirus infections from occurring.

This is because people normally don’t start showing symptoms of the virus – if at all – until days after they originally caught it, meaning they might have been infectious for multiple days without knowing.

The Test and Trace system is also failing to catch almost one in four people who test positive for the virus, which is allowing hundreds of patients to slip under the radar every week.

Boris Johnson’s timetable for getting life in the UK back to normal 

Today: Rules on using public transport will be relaxed so that ‘anybody may use’ buses, tubes and trains. Public transport no longer needs to be treated as a last resort.

Tomorrow: New ‘lightning lockdown’ powers for councils will be introduced to allow them to shut public spaces and premises without consulting the Government to stop outbreaks. 

Next week: New local lockdown draft powers for ministers will be published to allow them to issue stay at home orders and impose travel restrictions.

August: New rules on working from home to be introduced to encourage more workers to return to their offices. Remaining leisure facilities like bowling alleys, casinos and skating rinks will reopen from August 1. Socially distanced indoor performances in theatres can start. 

October: Stadiums could reopen to audiences for sport and music events, depending on the success of a pilot programme. 

November: All ‘outstanding restrictions’ will be reviewed and eased in November at the earliest and ‘possibly in time for Christmas’. 

SAGE says the system would have to block 80 per cent of all onward transmission of the virus in order for social distancing measures to be dropped completely. 

It admits in its report that this ‘would be difficult to do’ and recommends restrictions are kept in place until a vaccine is ready.

SAGE estimates that the average Briton is now seeing around 40 per cent of the friends, family and colleagues they interacted with before the pandemic.

The group’s mathematical modelling predicts that if this number rose to just 60 per cent, then the reproduction R rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – would climb above one and the epidemic would spiral back out of control.

Writing in the report, they said: ‘In order to be able to re-open schools in September without causing a second wave, it therefore critical that some measures remain in place, so that the reproduction number remains below 1 at the start of September when all children return to school.

‘Completely opening schools now could lead to R increasing to around 1. In order to open schools and allow a higher level of work and leisure contacts than is currently possible, Covid security would need to improve, and highly effective contact tracing would be needed’.

The report seems to contradict the Prime Minister, who revealed today he is aiming for life in the UK to return to something close to normal by this Christmas.

In a Downing Street speech setting out his timetable for the further easing of lockdown measures, he said it was likely that the coronavirus will become more virulent – more harmful – in the winter and that it would add to the ‘certain’ pressures of flu season. 

But in the same breath, Mr Johnson unveiled plans to get the country back to ‘normal life’ by Christmas, giving the green-light to letting thousands of Britons back into stadiums to watch football matches and outdoor gigs this autumn. 

The PM said the Government is hoping to review all the ‘outstanding restrictions’ in the coming months in order to allow a ‘more significant return to normality from November’ and ‘possibly in time for Christmas’.

But scientists and medics fear the move out of lockdown is too ‘rash’ and could risk a second wave in the winter, given that the virus is still known to be circulating. Data today showed 1,700 people in England are still getting infected each day – a figure that has not changed in a week.

Green light for fans to return to stadiums: Boris Johnson announces sports grounds could let spectators back in from October

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced crowds could return to sports stadiums in the United Kingdom from October subject to successful pilot events starting later this month. 

Sports events have taken place without crowds since they restarted in recent weeks because of the risk of spreading coronavirus.

But laying out the next steps in lifting lockdown on Friday morning, Mr Johnson said: ‘From 1 August, we will restart indoor performance to a live audience, subject to the success of pilots, and we will also pilot larger gatherings in venues like sports stadia, with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn.

‘From October, we intend to bring back audiences in stadia. Again, these changes must be done in a Covid-secure way, subject to the successful outcome of pilots.’ 

It raises the possibility that only the first month of the 2020-21 football season will be played out behind closed doors, with supporters allowed back in the autumn. 

The pilot events – which would see a limited number of spectators admitted to stadiums with social distancing rules observed – could begin this month. 

It has been reported that pilot events will include the County Championship cricket match between Surrey and Middlesex at The Oval on July 26, the Glorious Goodwood race meet between July 28 and August 1, and the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible from July 31. 

There is a danger that by announcing the easing of restrictions, people will take less care when adhering to social distancing rules, according to Professor Lawrence Young, a molecular oncologist at Warwick University. He said: ‘Clearly the virus is still here.’ 

Professor John Ashton, former regional director of public health for North West England, told MailOnline: ‘This is exactly the wrong time to be letting things go down, and certainly to be announcing it.’ He accused Mr Johnson of behaving ‘in a very rash fashion’. 

Professor Ashton said: ‘It’s too early to say it will be safe to start having spectators at football and rugby matches in October. It’s too early to say that. 

‘We still don’t know where it is circulating, because they don’t have testing the same as in Germany for example.

‘He [Boris Johnson] is sill behaving in a very rash fashion. I understand the argument about the economy, which has real problems now. But its not a choice about health or the economy. They are interlinked, if we get a big second wave, the economy will be in terrible trouble.’

‘I think what the Government should be doing is waiting until we are sure we are in control and down to zero cases during summer months, so if we do get out breaks in autumn we can intervene readily and squash them. This is being seen in other countries, like Scotland.’

He added: ‘In countries that have embraced this as an opportunity, they are looking at more home working. 

‘People can be more productive at home, and maybe only going to office part of the week. The benefits that will have for reducing transport, and impact on global warming, we are looking at a radical change in way we live. 

‘No doubt this will occur in Scandinavian countries. The government is asking us to go back to old way of working.

‘I think what the Government should be doing is waiting until we are sure we are in control and down to zero cases during summer months, so if we do get out breaks in autumn we can intervene readily and squash them. This is being seen in other countries, like Scotland.’

John Phillips, acting general secretary for GMB, accused the Prime Minister of ‘once again showing a failure of leadership in the face of this pandemic’.

He added: ‘With fears of a second spike looming, bewildering advice, and a desperately underfunded health service – the Prime Minister’s talk of returning to normality by Christmas just seems phony.’ 

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘The health service has been turned upside down in successful efforts to cope with the first wave – it has barely begun to start to recover from that trauma and it must do so with one hand effectively tied behind its back with social distancing and PPE affecting every clinical intervention.

‘So this must be added not just the probability of a resurgence of Covid at some level and an additional surge in demand from patients with other infectious diseases including flu that will inevitably come with winter.’