Britain moving towards Sweden’s approach to COVID-19, says leading scientist who met PM

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on September 22, 2020 to make make a statement to MPs in Parliament on the COVID-19 pandemic. - The British government will announce fresh steps Tuesday to try and stop a coronavirus surge in England, while the United States was on the verge of 200,000 Covid-19 deaths. The pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down -- more than 31.2 million infections have been detected worldwide, with 964,000 deaths -- and nations are scrambling to contain new outbreaks. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to make make a statement to MPs in Parliament on the COVID-19 pandemic. (Getty)

A leading scientist who has met with Boris Johnson says the PM is now trying to control the spread of coronavirus rather than suppress it completely.

Professor Carl Heneghan, director of Oxford University's Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, believes the UK is moving towards the Swedish approach to dealing with COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Johnson announced a raft of new measures to restrict the spread of the virus that could apply in England for six months.

The PM blamed an uptick of cases on people breaking the existing guidelines, and warned that further breaches could mean a second national lockdown.

Watch: All you need to know about the new measures announced by the PM

The new measures include encouraging office staff to now work from home, pubs closing at 10pm and wedding attendance being cut from 30 to 15.

Heneghan said the measures, which have received overwhelming backing from 78% of people, according to a YouGov survey, reflected a “shift in policy” from trying to suppress coronavirus to trying control the spread of infection.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What you're starting to see is a move towards Sweden. For instance when you look at bars and restaurants – that's a policy there where they have table service.

“I'm hoping we now start to see a more coherent consistent policy, one that stays in place and that we don't keep seeing the changes we see almost daily that become utterly confusing to the public.”

He added: “We have two issues. One is the mantra of fear and we have enforcements and fines.

“Whereas back to the Swedish approach, they are much more supportive. For instance, if you test positive, you get two weeks’ full pay for staying at home.”

Watch: How to remove a face covering correctly

Heneghan said a lot of people “still don't understand what social distancing means”, which emphasised the need for a “clear message right through the winter”.

He said: “There will be an inevitable rise in cases as we go into winter. The key is not to panic now.

“You've got to let some of these measures work and they will take a few weeks to come through.

“If at every point there's an uptick in cases again and we panic with more measures, we'll talk ourselves into another lockdown – which is for the whole society hugely disruptive.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22: People watch British Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a televised address to the nation inside the Westminster Arms pub on September 22, 2020 in London, England. The UK Prime Minister announced extra measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 cases in the House of Commons today. From Thursday face masks will become compulsory for bar staff, shop workers, waitering staff and taxi drivers. Office workers should work from home where possible and all pubs, bars and restaurants must offer table service only and close by 10pm.  (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)
People watch Boris Johnson making a televised address to the nation inside the Westminster Arms pub. (Getty)

Heneghan said he discussed the issues in a meeting with Johnson on Sunday night, adding: “It's about managing the policy throughout the winter.”

Sweden is one of just a few countries that did not impose a compulsory lockdown to deal with coronavirus – and this week it recorded its lowest COVID-19 infection rate since the pandemic began.

Restrictions in the country were voluntary, while authorities argued that the chances of finding a cue were slim and that allowing the population to develop herd immunity was a better strategy.

Restaurants and bars were not closed, while people were told to go to work when if they were able to.

Watch: What is ‘herd immunity’?

Schools for children under 16 remained open while gatherings of less than 50 people were permitted.

The wearing of face coverings has also so far not been recommended by the Swedish government.

Out of a population of over 10 million people, there have been 5,870 coronavirus deaths in Sweden, according to Johns Hopkins.

Daily new cases have remained stable, while data released this week showed Sweden has a fortnightly infection rate of 28 cases per 100,000 people – compared to 69 for the UK.

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