Health

Don’t hug too much, keep them short and wear a MASK, cautious SAGE scientist warns

Don’t hug too often, keep embraces short and avoid face-to-face contact, is the message from No10’s cautious scientific advisers ahead of the next major relaxation of Covid rules.  

Boris Johnson will announce England’s next steps out of lockdown at a 5pm Downing Street press conference today, where he is expected to confirm that friends and can hug each other again from May 17. 

Professor Cath Noakes, who sits on SAGE, has urged caution ahead of the relaxation, warning that too much hugging could ‘perpetuate’ Covid’s spread. 

She advised that if people are going to hug others, it should be restricted ‘to very small numbers of close family who perhaps you really value a hug from’ and suggested wearing masks to be safe.

‘I think don’t hug too frequently, keep it short, try and avoid being face-to-face, so perhaps turn your face away slightly, and even wearing a mask could help,’ she told the BBC.

Ministers are meeting this morning to finalise the details but Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the Government wanted to see ‘friendly contact’ restored after more than a year of social curbs.

In a round of interviews today, health minister Nadine Dorries said she was hopeful people will be ‘kissing again soon indoors’. 

Professor Noakes, an expert in airborne infections at the University of Leeds, backed allowing vaccinated grandparents to hug their grandchildren, claiming that the risk of transmission was very low, even though it was not zero.

But she said it would worry her if ‘we were advocating we could hug all of our friends every time we meet them again’. This would ‘perpetuate an awful lot of additional close contact that could spread the virus’, she added. 

As part of the next relaxation on Monday, pubs, restaurants and cafes across England will be able to seat customers inside again. 

Gatherings of up to six people or two households indoors will be allowed again, while hotels, B&Bs, cinemas, theatres and museums are to reopen. 

Limits on funeral mourners will also be scrapped and some foreign holidays are set to be allowed.

Professor Cath Noakes, who sits on SAGE, has urged caution ahead of the relaxation on May 17, warning that too much hugging could 'perpetuate' Covid's spread

Professor Cath Noakes, who sits on SAGE, has urged caution ahead of the relaxation on May 17, warning that too much hugging could ‘perpetuate’ Covid’s spread

Boris Johnson is set to confirm the loosening at a Downing Street press conference tonight, after the vaccine rolllout and plunging infections led to huge pressure from Tory MPs to speed up his plans

Boris Johnson is set to confirm the loosening at a Downing Street press conference tonight, after the vaccine rolllout and plunging infections led to huge pressure from Tory MPs to speed up his plans

Mr Johnson will gather his ministers this morning to approve moving to step three of the roadmap out of lockdown next Monday after the Government said the latest data confirmed its four tests for easing restrictions had been met.

Officials believe lifting the curbs is unlikely to risk a resurgence in virus infections now that one in three adults have been jabbed twice and more than half given one dose.

But Professor Noakes warned that, even after vaccination, someone could get infected and transmit it to others.

Bolton is revealed as UK hotspot for new Indian Covid strain as infection rates soar 

Public health officers in Bolton are going door-to-door in a bid to control the spread of the B16172 Indian coronavirus variant.

Indian variant cases have soared over the last week and Public Health officials say almost half the cases are related to travel or contact with a traveller.

The cases are spread across the country, however, the majority of the cases are in London and the North West, predominantly Bolton.

Residents living in the Bolton boroughs of Rumworth, Deane and Great Lever are being told to expect a knock on the door.

They will be told about new measures in place to stop the transmission of the variant.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 strategic response director at Public Health England (PHE) said: ‘We are monitoring all of these variants extremely closely.

‘We have taken the decision to classify this as a variant of concern because the indications are that this VOC-21APR-02 is a more transmissible variant.’

Bolton has been revealed as the UK hotspot for the new Covid 19 strain detected in India which has been escalated to a ‘variant of concern’.

Urgent measures to contain the variant are in the works in the town including surge testing and a strengthened vaccination campaign urging people to get the jab.

Areas within the BL3 postcode in Bolton, Greater Manchester, registered a small number of cases of the variant, leading to widespread testing.

There are 520 confirmed cases of the strain in the country, up from 202 the previous week. 

‘So that’s why we still need to be a bit cautious for a while yet,’ she said. 

‘We’ve come a long way with this. The virus, although it’s now very low prevalence, hasn’t gone away.’

At a press conference in Downing Street this evening, Mr Johnson will say: ‘The data reflects what we already knew – we are not going to let this virus beat us.

‘The roadmap remains on track, our successful vaccination programme continues – more than two thirds of adults in the UK have now had the first vaccine – and we can now look forward to unlocking cautiously but irreversibly.

‘It’s because of the British public’s unwavering commitment that we are saving lives, protecting the NHS and controlling the virus.’

Meanwhile, health minister Nadine Dorries said the Government’s main concern was now about the importation and spread of concerning variants.

She warned that while the UK is ‘in the tail end of the pandemic’, the world is ‘still in the grips of this pandemic’.

Ms Dorries told BBC Breakfast: ‘Our objective is to nail that virus, to make sure that we are never, as a country, in the position we were in last year again, and that we move out of this cautiously and safely.

‘We do have variants of concern on one hand, on the other hand we have the capacity to lateral flow test everybody in the UK, we have the capacity to surge test in localised areas where we see those variants of concern and where we know problems may be rising.

‘We have that in our armoury now which we never had before, but we still need to be cautious. We’re incredibly aware that everybody wants to get together, that people want to hug each other, that people want to entertain in their own homes.’

Almost 15million adults in England now have ‘maximum protection’ against the virus, with two doses. Two in three adults – 29.6million – have had at least one dose.

The Government said it was on track to offer all adults a first dose by the end of July.

Infection rates are at the lowest level since September and hospital admissions continue to fall, or plateau in some areas, with levels similar to those seen in July last year.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said of the jab success: ‘This milestone is yet more evidence of the huge national vaccination effort we are in the middle of.

‘I pay tribute to the huge team – NHS staff, councils and of course our wonderful volunteers who are working so hard to deliver vaccines in all parts of the United Kingdom.

‘The vaccine is our way out of this pandemic and tens of thousands of lives are being saved but the job is not yet done. I urge everyone, when the time comes, to get the jab.’

Professor Andrew Pollard, the chief investigator of the Oxford vaccine trial, said: ‘There is a future with no social distancing and no more masks, but from a global perspective we’re still a long way from that.

‘Here in the UK we’ve had remarkable success through the vaccine programme and that is getting closer to happening.’

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said it was ‘the case that friendly contact, intimate contact, between friends and family is something we want to see restored’.


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