Dr Mike Tildesley warned the Government may delay lockdown easing plans
Dr Mike Tildesley, who was behind one of the gloomy forecasts that warned tens of thousands of Britons could die if No10 eased measures too quickly, said the Government ‘needs to be reactive’ to further outbreaks.
‘If we do see a spike in cases or if we see things not going down as fast as we hoped I think there needs to remain the possibility to hold off for a couple of weeks so we get things in control,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘[This is] particularly if the government wants to have this one-way route to freedom which I think in itself is potentially a little bit uncertain.
‘It may well be that we have to have some measures introduced for a little bit of time in order to prevent these surges in infection occurring so that ultimately we can take virtually a one-way route back to normality.’
It comes as the Prime Minister was today forced to defend his four-stage plan for easing lockdown restrictions as ‘sensible and prudent’ after restrictions-sceptic Tories and scientists said it was too slow.
Mr Johnson’s four-stage plan will allow schools to be the first place to open their doors to all pupils on March 8, before loosening more measures five weeks later.
Ministers insist the long gap is necessary to ensure each step has not triggered a surge in infections that could lead to spiralling hospitalisations and deaths.
Department of Health data shows Covid infections have nosedived since the darkest days of January but there are early signs this is beginning to slow. It is hoped the jab roll-out will, however, keep the lid on hospitalisations and deaths, because they help prevent serious cases of the disease.
Above is the calendar for when restrictions could be eased. Dr Tildesley warns it is likely that these stages could be delayed
BRITAIN’S COVID LOCKDOWN IS ONE OF THE TOUGHEST IN THE WORLD, SAYS STUDY
Britons are living under the sixth strictest lockdown in the world – and the second harshest in Europe – according to an analysis by the University of Oxford.
Researchers have ranked the pandemic responses of 180 countries on a ‘stringency map’ by looking at how Covid restrictions have affected schools, offices, social gatherings, international travel and freedom to leave home.
Each country was scored on a scale of one to 100, with a higher figure indicating the most severe virus-controlling curbs. The numbers represented an average since the start of the pandemic.
The team put Britain’s Covid restrictions at 86.11 out of 100 by February 17, using the latest available data. Britain’s lockdown was ranked harsher than France (63.89) and the US (68.06), and stricter than Germany’s (83.33).
The analysis comes after Boris Johnson yesterday unveiled his ‘cautious’ lockdown exit strategy which could see life in England return to something close to normal by June at the earliest. The PM’s plan for easing restrictions will be split into four separate steps and will see the country treated as a whole, with no return to a tier system.
The Warwick University scientist and mathematician also warned he was concerned by the Government’s plans to send all pupils in England back to school at once.
Both Scotland and Wales are following a ‘phased-return’ to schools, with pupils up to the age of eight allowed to return from yesterday.
‘To be honest I’m a little bit nervous about the schools date,’ he said.
‘I would very much have favoured something more like say the Scotland model with the devolved administrations who are sending younger children back first.
‘I think there is a risk because we cant categorically say with 100 per cent certainty what sending children back to school will do to the R number.
‘It is clearly going to go up. Whether it goes above one is yet to be seen. (But) I suspect it will go very close to one and if it does then even if cases start to go down they’re going down in a much slower rate so i think that is a concern.’
The R number indicates how quickly the second wave is growing in England, with a figure below the critical threshold of one suggesting it is shrinking.
The latest estimates from Sage say the figure is between 0.6 and 0.9 for the UK, indicating the number of infections is shrinking. But it is feared that as schools start to reopen this will inevitably rise.
When schools in England reopen the Government is also introducing twice weekly tests for pupils and asking secondary school students to wear masks in class to head off a spike in cases.
Defending his four-stage plan today, Mr Johnson said on a visit to a south London school: ‘Some people will say we’re going to be going too fast, some people will say we’re going too slow.’
He refused to guarantee that all restrictions would be lifted by June 21 as scheduled, but insisted he was ‘hopeful’ it could happen.
The intervention came after Matt Hancock slapped down Professor Neil Ferguson for suggesting the government’s blueprint for England could be speeded up if things go well.
Tories and business have been voicing disquiet about the ultra-cautious approach being taken by ministers, even though the vaccination drive has been surging ahead.
The PM has been boosted by snap polls showing the public largely backs his stance, with 46 per cent telling YouGov it is about right – and around a fifth suggesting it is too fast.
Welsh government experts said today that Mr Johnson’s timeline is ‘risky’ and the outbreak could spiral out of control again, while Nicola Sturgeon is expected to unveil her own more cautious exit strategy this afternoon.
Professor Neil Ferguson – whose grim modelling triggered the initial lockdown last year – sounded a bright note on Times Radio last night.
‘Hopefully what we’ll see when each step happens is a very limited resurgence of infections. In which case, there’s a chance we can accelerate the schedule,’ he said.
However, Mr Hancock dismissed the idea of speeding the schedule up in a round of interviews this morning. ‘No. We need to see the effects of each step, and that takes five weeks,’ he said.