Health

Prof Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson calls for return of face masks

Professor Ferguson said: ‘Nobody likes having their freedoms curtailed by measures but it’s prudent to be cautious in everyday interactions — certainly wear(ing) masks helps that, it reminds people that we’re not completely out of the woods yet’

Face coverings should be brought back to remind people to be cautious in everyday interactions, one of the Government’s most influential scientific advisers suggested today.

‘Professor Lockdown‘ Neil Ferguson said masks ‘remind people we’re not completely out of the woods yet’.

All legal Covid restrictions were lifted in England on ‘Freedom Day’ in July, bringing an end to mandatory coverings indoors. However, people are still required by some transport companies and in medical settings — and No10 still advises people wear them in crowded environments.  

Ministers are keeping masks, WFH guidance and controversial vaccine passports in their back pocket as part of the Government’s ‘Plan B’, if an expected surge in cases this winter heaps unsustainable pressure on the NHS

Professor Ferguson, an epidemiologist who sits on SAGE, admitted some measures have to be rolled back, in the event of an uptick in infections. 

But speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he ruled out another blanket shut-down. He said: ‘I doubt we’ll ever get close to [the] lockdown we were in in January of this year.’ 

The UK recorded 620 cases per million people yesterday, six times higher than Germany (108 per million), nine times more than France (71 per million), 15 times more than Italy (42 per million) and 19 times more than Spain (33 per million), according to Our World in Data. However, the UK is also carrying out significantly more testing than the other European nations — twice as many as Germany, which is carrying out the second highest number of tests — meaning it is picking up more cases than the others

The UK recorded 620 cases per million people yesterday, six times higher than Germany (108 per million), nine times more than France (71 per million), 15 times more than Italy (42 per million) and 19 times more than Spain (33 per million), according to Our World in Data. However, the UK is also carrying out significantly more testing than the other European nations — twice as many as Germany, which is carrying out the second highest number of tests — meaning it is picking up more cases than the others

Professor Ferguson also called for Britain to follow Europe’s lead in giving teenagers two Covid vaccines instead of just one.

He said: ‘Most other European countries are ahead of us in vaccinating teens and they are giving them two doses, not just one dose. We know two doses really are needed to block infection and to prevent transmission.’

The UK’s chief medical officers only recommended giving children on jab over concerns of a very rare heart inflammation side effect called myocarditis, which there is a higher risk of after the second dose.

Nearly 5MILLION vulnerable adults have yet to have their Covid booster vaccine

Nearly five million vulnerable over-50s have yet to receive a Covid booster vaccine, official figures have revealed as fears grow around Britain’s ‘challenging’ winter ahead which could see the return of face masks.

Little over a month after the booster programme was launched, only around 3.7million third doses have been dished out in England as of Sunday, the latest date data is available for. 

But some 8.5million people are currently eligible for a booster dose, having received their second jab six months ago. They include all healthy over-50s, frontline health staff and carers and patients with underlying conditions.

It means 4.8million people may be suffering from waning immunity as Britain moves into the colder months and faces the double threat of increasing case numbers and flu.

SAGE adviser ‘Professor Lockdown ‘ Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said today it was ‘critical we accelerate’ the booster drive. And Sir David King, who was the Government’s chief scientific adviser from 2000 to 2007, said the rollout is moving ‘extremely slowly’.

Experts say the the rollout has slowed because the vaccination programme has become increasingly complex, with Britain simultaneously administering first doses to children in secondary schools and running the largest flu vaccination programme in history.

Ministers and experts have also suggested that the demand for boosters may be lower than expected. 

Officials said Britons should prepare for a ‘challenging few months’ after 49,156 infections were recorded yesterday — the highest figure in three months.

Last night Boris Johnson’s spokesman said there were ‘currently’ no plans to reintroduce restrictions but that they were keeping ‘a very close watch on the latest statistics’.

Britain led the world in the initial vaccine rollout, but it has now slumped behind Italy, Spain and France in terms of the percentage of the population to be double-jabbed. This is because it delayed rolling out jabs to healthy children, whereas most EU members approved those plans much quicker.

All over-50s and the clinically vulnerable can get a booster jab from six months after their second dose. But experts have warned that at the current rate the most vulnerable will not all receive their third vaccination until the end of January.

Professor Ferguson’s comments come amid fears the booster drive programme is going too slowly.

Nearly 5million vulnerable adults have yet to receive a Covid booster vaccine, official data shows after Downing Street admitted Britain faces a ‘challenging’ winter.

Despite the NHS top-up programme launching over a month ago, only 3.7million out of the 8.5m eligible people in England have received the crucial third dose.

No10’s scientists approved plans to revaccinate all healthy over-50s, frontline health staff and carers and patients with underlying medical conditions at least six months after their second dose.

Professor Ferguson today insisted it was ‘critical we accelerate’ the booster drive to give ourselves the best chance of avoiding having to bring back curbs. 

He said: ‘People need to be aware that we have currently higher levels of infection in the community than we’ve almost ever had during the pandemic.

‘For the last three or four months we’ve been up at well over one per cent of the population infected at any point in time.’

Some 49,156 daily Covid infections were reported in the UK yesterday, a three-month high.

The figure equates to around 640 daily cases per million Britons — six times higher than the case rate in Germany and 19 times higher than Spain.

But hospitalisations and deaths — which lag a few weeks behind infections due to the time it takes for someone to become seriously unwell after catching the virus — remain a fraction of what they were at previous peaks. 

Asked if the country should be worrying about a stay-at-home order being reimposed, Professor Ferguson said: ‘I don’t think we’re looking at another lockdown.

‘The worst case here are demands on the NHS. It’s very unlikely we’ll see anything like the levels of deaths we saw last year, for instance.

‘Coming into the winter, there may be a Plan B which needs to be implemented, which involves some rolling back of measures, but I doubt that we’ll ever get close to lockdown we were in in January of this year.’

The Government revealed last month that ‘Plan B’ — a return of some restrictions and the introduction of vaccine passports — would be implemented if booster jabs and vaccines to youngsters failed to stop the NHS from coming under unsustainable pressure.

Ministers said a lockdown would be a last resort if the additional measures did not bring the pandemic under control.

But he said it was ‘very clear’ No10 wanted to move away from restrictions, such as social distancing.

Meanwhile, most Western European countries have kept these in place — such as masks and vaccine passports — and are recording less infections and ‘and certainly not case numbers which are going up as fast as we’ve got’, Professor Ferguson said.

He said: ‘Nobody likes having their freedoms curtailed by measures but it’s prudent to be cautious in everyday interactions — certainly wear(ing) masks helps, it reminds people that we’re not completely out of the woods yet.’

The SAGE member said there are a ‘number of reasons’ why the UK has higher infection rates than other European countries.

Around 3.7million third vaccines have been dished out to over-50s and the immuno-compromised in England as of Sunday (purple line), the latest date data is available for. But some 8.5million people are currently eligible for a booster dose, having received their second jab six months ago (green line). means 4.8million people may be suffering from waning immunity

Around 3.7million third vaccines have been dished out to over-50s and the immuno-compromised in England as of Sunday (purple line), the latest date data is available for. But some 8.5million people are currently eligible for a booster dose, having received their second jab six months ago (green line). means 4.8million people may be suffering from waning immunity

North and south divide. Scotland is roaring ahead with rolling out the first dose of the Covid vaccine to 12-to-15-year-olds compared to England. All 10 of the best performing areas were north of the border with England hosting the bottom 10, the majority of which are in London

North and south divide. Scotland is roaring ahead with rolling out the first dose of the Covid vaccine to 12-to-15-year-olds compared to England. All 10 of the best performing areas were north of the border with England hosting the bottom 10, the majority of which are in London

The Government has been criticised over the slow rollout of the Covid vaccine to children but the latest figures reveal that the scheme is having mixed success across the country, with Scotland soaring ahead of England

The Government has been criticised over the slow rollout of the Covid vaccine to children but the latest figures reveal that the scheme is having mixed success across the country, with Scotland soaring ahead of England

There is lower immunity in the UK population, because it rolled out vaccines faster than other countries, meaning it is seeing protection from the jabs wane comparatively earlier than other nations, Professor Ferguson said.

AstraZeneca was the main vaccine used in the UK, which ‘protects very well against severe outcomes of Covid’, but is slightly less effective than Pfizer — which was the main vaccine used in Europe — at stopping infection and transmission ‘particularly in the face of the Delta variant’, he said.

And the UK is ‘no longer in the top rank of European countries’ for overall vaccination coverage, which started vaccinating youngsters earlier, he added.

Professor Ferguson said booster vaccines are ‘absolutely’ the way to tackle waning immunity and the rollout to 12 to 15-year-olds needs to be sped up.

He said: ‘There’s data coming through now, which is not completely clear cut, but good data coming through from Israel, which shows that, if you’ve had the third booster dose of the vaccine, then you get very high loads, better than even you had after the second dose.

‘So I do think it’s critical we accelerate the booster programme.’ 

Children aged 12 to 15 starting receiving first doses of Pfizer a month ago — but just 14.2 per cent have been jabbed in England, compared to 44.3 per cent in Scotland. 

Meanwhile, another expert today warned hospital admissions and deaths would be the measure to determine if restrictions needed to return.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group, which provides information to SAGE, told BBC Breakfast hospital admissions ‘are starting to slowly creep up’, which ministers need to keep an eye on.

He said hospitalisation need to be compared with 2020 and 2019 — before the pandemic — ‘to really assess at what points the Government may need to think about potentially reintroducing more restrictions, if we are at risk of being in a situation similar to where we were last year’.

But everyone wants to avoid ‘closures of workplaces, closures of businesses, and of course going into full lockdown, so these really have to be last-resort measures’, Dr Tildesley said.


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