Senior advisers to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government on Saturday said that it was too early to lift the lockdown, just two days before the UK is to further relax COVID-19 restrictions.
As people reveled in soaring temperatures by flocking to beaches and parks, several members of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) told ministers that they risked a second wave of infection.
One — epidemiologist John Edmunds — said the move was “a political decision.”
Another prominent scientist, Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and also a member of SAGE, warned explicitly on Twitter that the government was wrong on its timing.
“Covid-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England,” Farrar wrote.
“TTI [test, trace and isolate] has to be in place, fully working, capable [of] dealing [with] any surge immediately, locally responsive, rapid results & infection rates have to be lower.”
From today, the British government is to begin easing lockdown rules imposed in March and partially reopen schools in England and allow up to six people from different households to meet outside.
Reacting to the warnings, British Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden said it was “absolutely right to urge caution.”
However, he said that “the government scientific advisory group consists of more than 50 scientists, all of whom will have their different perspectives ... the government takes a collective view on the entire advice from SAGE.”
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam, speaking alongside Dowden at the government’s daily coronavirus briefing, added that SAGE had a “high degree of confidence” that continued social distancing and other measures combined with effective contact tracing would not push the so-called R transmission rate up above the critical one figure.
Put simply, the R number is the calculation of how many people an infected person is thought to transmit the virus to on average.
If the R value is one, each carrier passes it on to one other person.
The UK is the second-hardest hit country after the US, with more than 38,000 coronavirus deaths and 270,000 cases.
Since May 13, people in England have been allowed to take unlimited exercise and sunbathe in parks, a relaxation of the original rules enforced in March.
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