Expert urges against ‘flip-flopping’ between economy and epidemic

Encouraging the public to visit bars and restaurants and then closing hospitality due to a spike in Covid-19 cases is not a “sensible way to run the epidemic”, a Government scientific adviser has said.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), urged a long-term strategy when it comes to balancing the economy and the pandemic.

Current national lockdown measures in England mean venues such as pubs, bars and restaurants have been forced to close, but are expected to be allowed to reopen when the restrictions lift.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

Prof Edmunds raised concerns about “flip-flopping” between incentives such as Eat Out To Help Out and closures.

“We need to take a long-term view and be sensible and realise that we’re going to have to have restrictions in place for some time,” he told the PA news agency.

“Yes, we can lift them when it’s safe to do so, which will be primarily when large numbers of people have been vaccinated.

“But flip-flopping between encouraging people to mix socially, which is what you’re doing by encouraging people to go to restaurants and bars, versus then immediately closing them again, isn’t a very sensible way to run the epidemic.”

Under current plans, a regional tiered system is set to replace the national lockdown when it ends on December 2.

Prof Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it was “too early to judge” if this was too soon to lift the current restrictions.

But he said a return to the lowest alert level of the regional tier system, Tier 1, when the lockdown ends would be “very unwise”.

“The problem with the tier system is Tier 1 doesn’t do much at all, Tier 2 probably has some effect, but not a great deal, and Tier 3 seems to be able to hold the epidemic,” he said.

“The problem with the tier system is that inevitably you end up with quite a lot of places with high incidence under those circumstances.

“Because the Tier 1 and Tier 2 ones just eventually drift up into Tier 3 with a high incidence, and then Tier 3 holds it there.”

He added: “It wasn’t a very well thought through strategy, frankly.”

It comes after the Government said a further 462 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday.

As of 9am on Saturday, there had been a further 26,860 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, slightly down from 27,301 on Friday.

Meanwhile, Labour has called for emergency legislation to “stamp out dangerous anti-vax content” following promising preliminary results from the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The opposition claimed that dedicated anti-vaccination groups with hundreds of thousands of members on social media are “churning out disinformation” on the issue.

Elsewhere, another member of Sage said the next two weeks will be “absolutely crucial” in ensuring that the coronavirus lockdown ends as planned.

Professor Susan Michie, a behavioural scientist at University College London, urged the public to resist breaking current rules, to “be in a position” to spend the festive period with loved ones.

“So I think for the next two weeks, everybody has to really get all their resolve together,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Prof Michie also suggested that the announcement of a potential Covid-19 vaccine could lead to complacency with the measures, adding that the jab will make “no difference” to the current wave.