It’s too soon to lift lockdown, say UK scientific advisers

A man walks in an empty Camden High Street in London on March 29. (AP pic)

LONDON: Three scientific advisers to the British government have warned that Covid-19 is still spreading too fast in the country to lift the lockdown, with one describing it as a political decision.

England’s lockdown will ease slightly on Monday, with groups of up to six people allowed to meet outside and primary schools re-opening to certain year groups.

The government has said it hopes that a “test and trace” regime, where contacts of known cases are asked to self-isolate, will contain the virus and help the country start to reopen.

But Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of Britain’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he agreed with his colleague John Edmunds that “Covid-19 is spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England.”

“TTI (test, trace, isolate) has to be in place, fully working, capable dealing any surge immediately, locally responsive, rapid results & infection rates have to be lower. And trusted,” he said on Twitter.

Edmunds, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a member of Sage, said on Friday that “we are taking some risk here” with an “untested” test and trace system, describing it as a political decision.

“The government here in Westminster clearly made a decision that this is the sort of level of incidence that they’re willing to tolerate, the level of incidence here in the UK is significantly higher than similar countries around Europe,” he told the BBC.

“But we’ve obviously decided that we can tolerate that level of incidence, or the government has.”

While a third member of Sage said Britain could not afford to lose control of the virus.

“We really can’t go back to a situation where we’ve got the numbers of cases and deaths we’ve had in the past,” Professor Peter Horby, who is also chairman of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), told BBC Radio, adding that a test, trace and isolate system needed to be in place.

“As we know, it’s not yet fully operational so that is where the risk lies,” he said.

More than 48,000 people have died with Covid-19 in the United Kingdom, making it one of the worst-hit countries in the world.

According to a survey by the Office of National Statistics, there are an estimated 54,000 new Covid-19 infections per week in England.