The national lockdown needs to be toughened further to have a similar impact on case numbers as the March shutdown, scientists have said.
A more infectious variant, coupled with the usual winter pressures, requires stricter measures than the ones announced by Boris Johnson for England this month, the experts warned. Similar lockdown measures are in place across Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Professor Robert West, a participant in the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), said the current restrictions are “still allowing a lot of activity which is spreading the virus”.
The professor of health psychology at University College London said that he and people he has spoken to – including epidemiologists, medical scientists, and virologists – think the rules should be tightened.
The new strain of #COVID19 is spreading fast, with cases rising across the country.
We all need to stay at home.
Read on...Support us and go ad-free
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) January 9, 2021
He told BBC News more children are going to school than in the first lockdown and that schools are “a very important seed of community infection”.
Because we have the more infectious variant, which is somewhere around 50% more infectious than last time round in March, that means that if we were to achieve the same result as we got in March we would have to have a stricter lockdown, and it’s not stricter.
It’s actually less strict.
Some scientists have estimated the variant could be as much as 70% more transmissible.
Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London, said the current lockdown was “too lax”. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) member told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
It is definitely too lax, because if you think about it and compare ourselves with March, what do we have now? We have the winter season and the virus survives longer in the cold, plus people spend more time indoors and we know aerosol transmission, which happens indoors, is a very big source of transmission for this virus.
And secondly we have this new variant which is 50-70% more infectious. You put those two things together, alongside the NHS being in crisis, we should have a stricter rather than less strict lockdown than we had back in March.
Both she and Prof West are also part of Independent Sage, a group of experts who have argued for tougher measures at various points throughout the pandemic.
Prof West said the government is “very much aware of the consequences of different levels of restrictions and obviously what it’s doing is it’s making what it considers to be a political decision”.
Criticising the government, he said it is “completely false” for them to say they have acted at the right time. Asked if the level of infection and number of deaths was potentially avoidable, he told BBC News:
Yes, it was always avoidable. This is the really frustrating thing for all of us who work in public health.
This was always avoidable. When the Government says – I’m going to be quite critical now I’m afraid – but when the Government says ‘oh we’re in the same boat as other countries, we didn’t see this coming’, and so on, and ‘we’re acting at the right time’. That is completely false.
He said that in summer, when cases decreased, experts had advised the government to ramp up its Test and Trace system as well as support for people to isolate – but they failed to do so.
They didn’t do this. They maintained their hugely expensive but ineffective test, trace and isolate system. They’re not providing the kind of support that’s needed for people to feel that they’re able to do the sorts of things that the Government is now saying ‘well, we’re going to punish you if you don’t do it’. So they’ve got it all the wrong way round.
It’s really much, much more about support.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?