Britons may have to put social life on hold for most of a year

Two pedestrians cross the street wearing masks in Piccadilly Circus, London. (AP pic)

LONDON: British citizens may need to keep away from each other for most of a year in order to contain the spiralling coronavirus outbreak, UK government advisers concluded.

The advisers suggested the government could alternate between periods of more and less strict measures of so-called “social distancing” – in which individuals work from home and avoid gatherings.

The advice emerged in a slew of documents the government published detailing scientific evidence ministers have received on how to respond to the virus.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK could “turn the tide” on Covid-19 in 12 weeks, but that required Britons to heed government calls for social distancing, including staying away from pubs and restaurants.

“These would need to be in place for at least most of a year,” the scientific committee said. “Under such as policy, at least half of the year would be spent under the stricter social distancing measures.”

In another document, it said the timing and strength of measures is a “political decision.”

Deaths from the outbreak more than doubled to 144 between Tuesday and Thursday, and the government has stepped in to close schools to most pupils as well as channel financial aid to businesses.

On Friday, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is due to unveil a package of measures to protect workers from losing their jobs during the outbreak.

Financial heft

“It is only the financial heft of the state that can help people through this,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Friday in a BBC radio interview.

“The only way to think about this is that it is a war against an invisible killer and that means we have to marshal the resources of the entire nation.”

In his now daily televised press conference on Thursday, Johnson predicted a new testing regime could be a “game changer” in the battle against the virus, with as many as 250,000 tests conducted each day.

Scientists are working on a new antibody test, to assess who has already had the disease, alongside the traditional testing already in operation.

People who have built up immunity and are not infectious may no longer need to self-isolate because – in theory – they could not transmit the virus.

The panel of behavioural scientists convened by the government to advise its response also “agreed that large-scale rioting is unlikely and rarely seen in these circumstances,” another of the documents said.

“Acts of altruism will likely predominate and the government could promote and guide these.”

June peak

The scientists, which also include experts on epidemiology and pandemics, also said the Covid-19 outbreak would be expected to peak in June, according to the documents.

But while ministers have consistently said they are being “guided by the science” in tackling the outbreak, the committee made clear the choice of when and how to implement measures including social distancing and self-isolation is one for the politicians.

“It is a political decision to consider whether it is preferable to enact stricter measures at first, lifting them gradually as required, or to start with fewer measures and add further measures if required,” the committee said.