Professor Neil Ferguson has urged workers not to rush back to offices, undermining the Government’s public messaging
‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson has urged workers not to rush back to offices because it could propel the current rise in infections and force tougher restrictions.
The Imperial College London scientist’s comments undermine the Government’s huge drive to get employees back in offices and help kick-start the economy.
Professor Ferguson – whose grim modelling of the pandemic was used to steer ministers through the crisis – said people should ‘hesitate’ at the ‘headlong rush to get everybody back into offices’.
He warned people should wait several weeks to see what effect reopening schools has had on Covid-19 transmission before returning to work. Scientists believe it is an inevitability that getting the education sector back up and running will drive up the virus’s spread, but the question is by how much.
Nine in 10 home workers want to continue in the future
Nine out of 10 people in the UK who have worked from home during lockdown want to continue doing so, according to new research.
The report – Homeworking in the UK: before and during the 2020 lockdown – is believed to be the first to analyse survey data focused on homeworking during the coronavirus pandemic.
It said working from home in the UK rose from 6 per cent of employees before the start of the pandemic up to 43% in April, with results indicating that productivity mostly remained stable compared with the six months before.
The report, by academics at Cardiff University and the University of Southampton, said 88 per cent of employees who worked at home during lockdown would like to continue doing so in some capacity, with 47 per cent are wanting to do so often or all the time.
About two-fifths (41 per cent) said they got as much work done at home as they did six months earlier when most, but not all, were in their usual places of work.
More than a quarter (29 per cent) said they got more done at home, while 30 per cent said their productivity had fallen.
The surge in home working triggered by the lockdown mostly affected the highest paid, the better qualified, the higher skilled and those living in London and the South East.
Professor Ferguson – a former member of SAGE – said if schools lead to a significant spike in infections then it’s likely the Government will have to try reduce social contact elsewhere, starting with in the workplace.
He warned ‘all the analysis’ suggested there would be an ‘uptick in deaths in the coming weeks’.
The epidemiologist told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘One of the mistakes made early on in this crisis was being cautious in responding to the epidemic and that led to the UK being later than we would have liked in locking down, and therefore we saw the death toll this country did see.
‘And I am encouraged that now we are responding in a more timely manner – we have a lot more data available to track the epidemic.’
He said ‘all the analysis’ suggested there would be an ‘uptick in deaths in the coming weeks, so now is the time to respond’.
But Professor Ferguson warned: ‘The measures just announced will take some weeks to have an effect, so we need to wait at this point and see how much it will flatten the curve.
‘And then if that is not sufficient to bring the reproduction number below one, so the epidemic starts shrinking again, then yes, we may need to clamp down in other areas.’
The Imperial scientist said people should ‘hesitate’ at the ‘headlong rush to get everybody back into offices’.
‘The case number increases we’ve seen in the last two weeks, do not yet account for the reopening of schools. So undoubtedly that may increase transmission still further and there may be a need therefore to reduce contacts in other settings,’ he told Today.
Professor Ferguson said he was still working from home, and cautioned: ‘Certainly I think we should hesitate and maybe pause at the headlong rush to get everybody back into offices.
‘But some people have to work and I completely understand the concerns in many quarters that everybody working at home has an economic impact, particularly on city centres.’
Professor Ferguson formerly sat on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and had a prominent hand in ministers’ decisions early in the crisis.
But he was kicked from the group for flouting stay at home rules to have secret trysts with his married mistress.
He was dubbed Professor Lockdown after his grim mathematical modelling warned that 500,000 Brits may die from Covid-19 without action.