Scientists warn new Covid restrictions ‘not enough’ as lockdown split grows

Published: 9 October 2020

Post Desk : The s

plit over how to deal with the UK’s rise in coronavirus cases is growing, with scientists warning that the Government’s proposed curbs do not go far enough.

Ministers are reportedly planning to order the temporary closure of pubs, bars and restaurants in coronavirus hotspots, alongside fresh financial packages to help the hardest hit areas and industries.

Boris Johnson is expected to outline the measures as he unveils a new three-tier local lockdown system next week. Under other plans said to be being considered, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people living in coronavirus hotspots could also be told to shield this winter.

However, members of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) told The Guardian that the closures are unlikely to bring cases down and that England should have imposed a Scottish style circuit-breaker – which sees hospitality venues completely close for a short period of time – several weeks ago.

The experts also hit out at “fringe” anti-lockdown epidemiologists, who they fear are getting too much attention. This week, an international group of medical professionals called for governments to pursue herd immunity among the young while isolating the vulnerable.

Sage member Professor John Edmunds, said on Thursday that a “circuit breaker” lockdown was needed immediately to avoid many hospitalisations and deaths from coronavirus. He said: “I would rather we did it right now, and we took the pain right now.”

However, there is a growing revolt from regional leaders and hospitality groups after the proposals were leaked. Regional leaders have criticised the Government for not consulting them ahead of the changes, while Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said he would challenge any closures.

The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) also said any stricter lockdown measures in the North of England could “destroy” pubs in the region. The trade association said more restrictions would be on top of what is already a “very challenging” period for the sector with the 10pm curfew and rule of six, plus service limited to tables, resulting in a huge reduction in consumer confidence.
It comes as Northern MPs were warned that the NHS could be overwhelmed by the rise in new cases in coronavirus hotspots.

Some hospitals are set to run out of beds for coronavirus patients within a week, The Guardian reported. Matt Ashton, Liverpool’s director of public health, told the paper that Liverpool’s two main acute hospital trusts could be full by the end of next week.

“I don’t want to panic people but within seven to 10 days our hospitals will be at the level they were at the peak of the pandemic”, he said.

MPs representing constituencies in the Midlands and north of England – where case numbers are highest – were briefed by the chief scientific adviser Professor Chris Whitty on Thursday.

One of those who joined the call said it was implied that the NHS may not cope if case numbers continued to rise in the areas. They said they were shown a graph with early analysis by Public Health England suggesting that hospitality is a major cause of the infection spreading.

Meanwhile, a minister has acknowledged the situation was “getting out of control” and said action from Whitehall was required.

The UK saw its highest rise in new cases yet, with a further 17,540 lab-confirmed cases reported on Thursday

Skills minister Gillian Keegan said on BBC Question Time : “This is serious – it is getting out of control, and we have to do something to bring it back under control.”

Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said the increase in cases should “serve as a warning to the Government to take further action without delay”.

“It is clear that the consequences of not suppressing infections sufficiently over the summer may be severe if we cannot get on top of this increase,” he said.