Scientists warn of new coronavirus wave if lockdown is lifted too quickly

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Britain could face a coronavirus wave as big as the current one if lockdown restrictions are lifted too quickly, a scientist advising the government has said.

Professor Steven Riley, a member of the SPI-M modelling group, said that while the rollout of the vaccination programme had been “incredibly successful” it did not mean controls could simply be dropped.

“Scientists are genuinely worried”

Prof Riley told the BBC Radio Today programme:

No vaccine is perfect. We are certainly going to be in the situation where we can allow more infection in the community but there is a limit…

I think scientists are genuinely worried. We don’t want to show that it is an excellent but not perfect vaccine by having another large wave in the UK.

He went on to say:

Nearly 20% of the UK population is 65 years old or older. If you do some simple back of the envelope (calculations) for a vaccine that is very good but not perfect, there is the potential for another really substantial wave. That is not where we want to go in the short term.

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If for some reason we were to choose to just pretend it (coronavirus) wasn’t here any more, then there is the potential to go back to a wave that is a similar size to the one that we are in now.

We “cannot afford” another peak

Prof Riley’s warning came amid continuing pressure from some Conservative MPs for the government to begin easing controls as more people become inoculated.

Former cabinet minister David Davis said easing of restrictions should begin with schools, which are due to reopen in England on 8 March.

However, NHS Confederation chairman Lord Adebowale expressed concern that 8 March was still too soon for schools to return. He said the NHS workforce was “on its knees”. And that ministers needed to be “very cautious” about any easing of lockdown restrictions. He told the Today programme:

We have to be really careful, really systematic about easing any lockdown. What we cannot afford is another peak…

We have had a number of false dawns when we have set dates, taken the action then find ourselves having to row back very quickly.

‘Acceptable’ death rate?

Ministers are confident they’ll meet the target of offering a first dose of the vaccine to all those in the government’s top four priority groups by the deadline of Monday 15 February.

However, that’s led to renewed demands for a relaxation of the restrictions.

Davis said that a combination of the vaccines and new treatments meant coronavirus (Covid-19) should become a “manageable” disease like flu with a “normal” level of deaths each year. He told the Today programme:

There will come a point where there will be a death rate from Covid but it is at a normal level and then we have to cope with that. Obviously we still try to prevent it but we accept it.

After the number receiving a first dose passed 14 million on Friday 12 February, the government has launched a fresh drive to encourage those who have so far been reluctant to get the jab.


(PA Graphics)

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