SAGE scientific adviser warns Boris Johnson is ‘taking a risk’ by easing lockdown now

PUBLISHED: 16:56 29 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:05 29 May 2020

Boris Johnson at a Downing Street press briefing. Photograph: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire

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Boris Johnson at a Downing Street press briefing. Photograph: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire .

A scientist who advises the government says Boris Johnson is “taking some risk” by relaxing lockdown measures while the number of new cases of coronavirus recorded each day remains “relatively high”.

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Professor John Edmunds, who attends meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) supporting the government, said many experts would “prefer” to see the number of Covid-19 infections drop before measures such as a relaxation on social interaction restrictions were introduced.

Prof Edmunds, speaking during a Science Media Centre briefing, said the decision to relax certain rules came with a degree of risk.

He said: “I think many of us would prefer to see the incidence driven down to lower levels because that would mean we have fewer cases occurring before we relaxed the measures.

“If we had incidents at a lower level, even if the reproduction level went up a bit, we wouldn’t be in a position where we were overwhelming the health service.


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“I think at the moment with relatively high incidents, relaxing the measures and with an untested track and trace system, I think we are taking some risk here.

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“Even if that risk doesn’t play out and we keep the incidents flat, we’re keeping it flat at quite a high level.”

The government has launched its track and trace system designed to limit the spread of infection by ordering contacts of those who become infected with coronavirus to isolate.

The professor, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, supported the decision to essentially substitute a “blanket approach” to containing the virus with a targeted one, adding it saw a return to “some level of normality”.

He added: “None of us think, who have looked at this in any great detail, that that will be sufficient to be able to hold the reproduction number below one.

“We all think we will have to have quite significant numbers of wider social distance measures in place.

“The basic reproduction number for this virus is perhaps three, maybe even more, so we cannot relax our guard by very much at all.”

He said there was a need to try and get the economy restarted, to get people back to work and to provide a boost to people’s mental health.

But he said even if track and trace kept the R-value at about one, it would still result in around 8,000 community infections a day in England.

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