Public health expert warns that the UK needs a clear coronavirus strategy beyond the vaccine

The Canary

The response to coronavirus (Covid-19) across the UK should be more proactive, a public health expert has warned.

Professor Devi Sridhar said there’s currently “no clear strategy” in the UK other than “reactive lockdowns”. Prof Sridhar is chairwoman of public health at Edinburgh University and an adviser to the Scottish government.

Each devolved administration is responsible for how it handles coronavirus. But all four are currently in lockdown following a spike in cases and deaths in the past six weeks. The spike has been caused, at least partially, by a new, more transmissible strain of the virus.

“The UK has no clear strategy”

Prof Sridhar urged governments to be more proactive. She stressed that the three vaccines approved in the past month couldn’t be considered a strategy. She told Times Radio:

I think the larger issue here is the UK has no clear strategy beyond reactive lockdowns whenever hospitals are under pressure.

People have been in lockdown for almost a year and I think it is unrealistic for people to continue to distance and avoid mixing for months and months when it’s part of what makes us human.

We should learn lessons from other countries, Prof Sridhar said, adding:

I see this slightly differently. We need a plan to stop these lockdowns, and to learn from other countries – those in east Asia and the Pacific – which are largely back to normal.

Relying solely on the vaccine is “highly, highly risky”

The government must improve test and trace systems, along with introducing stricter measures at international borders. There also need to be support packages for people who are forced to self-isolate, the public health expert said.

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While vaccines provide a “bright spot”, there are still questions about how they’ll affect the long-term prevalence of coronavirus, she said.

The length of time people will be immune to the virus for, how many people will need to take it to provide herd immunity, and whether it will stop those with the virus from being infectious all still need to be addressed.

Prof Sridhar said:

For me, the vaccine is definitely there, we have to continue rollout, keep saving lives through protecting vulnerable people with that.

But it’s not a strategy in and of itself, and relying on it alone is highly, highly risky, especially with all the new variants and mutations. We need to have a plan and the vaccine supports that plan but it’s just your plan.

“We are not at the mercy of this virus”

Without a clear strategy, the UK could see more lockdowns needed in the summer, according to the Scottish government adviser.

She said:

We are not at the mercy of this virus where whatever it does we have to react.

We can dictate how this evolves, but we need a bit more agency in being more proactive and ahead of it instead of always behind it.

Prof Sridhar said the current measures are necessary to drive down cases and allow improvements to be made to test and trace systems.She conceded that lockdowns are “crude” and damaging to the economy and mental health, but they’re needed.

She also warned against reopening the economy fully in the summer, saying:

Instead of taking your foot off the gas and saying ‘Let’s open up everything’, actually think ‘How do we prevent this winter from happening again? How do we actually protect that low prevalence?’

Get emergency teams in place in case there are flare-ups … go in, have a quick, sharp one-week lockdown and get your testing and tracing to clear the virus.

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