Independent SAGE expert says Downing Street ‘lacking ambition’ to reduce coronavirus infection rate in England

PUBLISHED: 11:12 30 July 2020 | UPDATED: 11:15 30 July 2020

Radio presenter Tom Swarbrick on LBC; LBC

Radio presenter Tom Swarbrick on LBC; LBC

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A member of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has accused Downing Street of showing a “lack of ambition” to reduce coronavirus infection rates across England.

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Professor Martin McKee said that ministers could be doing an “awful lot more” to tackle rising Covid-19 infection rates.

Talking with Tom Swarbrick on LBC radio, McKee explained why it was difficult to track the virus’ life cycle: “I think we need to be very careful in using the term ‘second wave’, that’s very much based on what happened in 1918 with the influenza pandemic, which we have now learnt is a very different virus [to Covid].

“What we’re seeing is different waves at different times in different places. There are a whole series of ups and downs.

“As you’re waiting to close down, cases go up, as you close down, they fall, as you open up if you haven’t got everything sorted out they come back again.”

McKee went on to say that while Scotland and Ireland had made efforts to reduce infection rates to “almost nothing”, England hadn’t.

Describing how other nations such as New Zealand have tackled the issue, the public health professor said: “Clearly, England could do an awful lot more.”

“I think we are somewhat lacking in ambition. I think we could do much more...like have a fully functioning find, isolate and support system.”

He added: “First of all we still have a testing system which is still fragmented with pillars, not always communicating properly with one another. It’s getting better but we shouldn’t have been waiting until now for it to all happen.”

McKee explained that better information sharing between local health authorities and Westminster and financial assistance for people forced to self-isolate were ways England could improve its coronavirus response.

Discussing passenger testing at airports in England, the health expert said: “What other countries have done is...people are put up in accommodation while they’re waiting for a period of time to find out if their tests come back negative.”

He reminded Swarbrick, who hosted the professor on his show, that testing also had its faults.

“We have to remember that there are problems with false negatives. Secondly, there is the incubation period. It does take some time for the virus to be detectable so there is problems with testing at airports. There is no panacea.”

McKee’s comments come as Downing Street announced an extension of quarantine guidelines from seven to 10 days for people showing signs of coronavirus, which is in line with World Health Organization advice.

Independent SAGE was set up former Number 10 chief scientific advisor Sir David King to shadow and scrutinise the government’s own scientific advisory group dubbed SAGE.

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