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Coronavirus UK: Indoor mixing could be reintroduced sooner, SAGE suggests

Could Boris have gone even FURTHER? SAGE’s lockdown-easing plan would have let you meet a friend indoors for Easter with Tier 1-esque policies in April… but they warn a third wave is inevitable and relaxing too quickly could cause another 150,000 deaths

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson today outlined the blueprint of his ‘one-way road to freedom’ to end lockdown
  • He said a third wave is inevitable, whenever lockdown ends, with SAGE modelling mirroring this warning
  • A gradual easing of lockdown can keep hospital admissions below the first wave peak, scientists say
  • But they warn ‘things could go wrong if we go about this the wrong way’ and 150,000 more people could die
  • Boris’s plan could bring back indoor mixing from mid-May, but SAGE model suggested doing it in March

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Boris Johnson‘s plan to lift lockdown could have factored in indoor mixing sooner and still kept hospital bed occupancy levels at the lowest level they are likely to reach in an inevitable third wave, SAGE modelling suggests.

The Prime Minister today laid out his ‘one-way road to freedom’ in plans to bring in the Rule of Six and mixing of two households outdoors by the end of March, with indoor socialising set for May 17 at the earliest.

However a plan suggested by SPI-M, a sub-group of SAGE, suggested that people could welcome solo visitors into their homes as early as March 29 while keeping most other factors roughly the same as the Government’s plan. 

SAGE’s modelling shows that a third wave of coronavirus infections and hospital admissions will be inevitable when lockdown rules are loosened, with the numbers of people on wards with Covid-19 approaching levels close to, or higher than, the first wave in the spring of 2020. In a worst-case scenario, another 150,000 people could die before next summer, the government advisers warned.

Lifting rules earlier but in a controlled manner could keep the hospitalisations below the first wave peak but bring the third wave forward so that it happens in the summer, when the pressure on the NHS is low, instead of winter.

The blueprint for lifting lockdown, outlined by Mr Johnson today and expected to be eased over March, April, May and June, is expected to see the R rate of the virus rise higher than 2 before the end of April. This rate – which measures how many people each person with coronavirus infects – will be higher than at any point since the very beginning of the pandemic.

But it is hoped that widespread vaccination – more than 17.5million people have been vaccinated already and all adults in the UK are likely to have been offered a jab by the time lockdown is lifted completely – will prevent millions of infections and thousands of hospital admissions and deaths.

Data published today for the first time suggest that the jabs already being used in Britain – made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca – are already preventing between 85 and 94 per cent of hospital admissions among people who have had them, and Pfizer’s jab may be stopping upwards of 70 per cent of people from becoming infected.

But the Government’s top scientists sounded alarm bells in a briefing with journalists this morning, insisting that the easing of lockdown must be led by ‘data not dates’. Dame Angela McLean, deputy chief scientific adviser, said: ‘One of the things that is very clear is this could go wrong if we go about things the wrong way.’

SAGE modelling presented to the Government found that one-on-one indoor mixing could be brought back at the end of March and the inevitable third wave still kept under control. Graph shows how all lockdown-lifting scenarios eventually lead to a third spike in the number of people in hospital – the green line appears to track closely to Mr Johnson’s plan to lift lockdown, but factored in indoor mixing as soon as March 29. It brings forward the next spike in NHS pressure to the summer, when the NHS is less busy, instead of pushing it back to the winter

A second modelling scenario confirmed that one-on-one indoor mixing being reintroduced in March (scenario 5a, the green line) could be part of a method that keeps the hospital bed occupancy below the first wave peak

A second modelling scenario confirmed that one-on-one indoor mixing being reintroduced in March (scenario 5a, the green line) could be part of a method that keeps the hospital bed occupancy below the first wave peak

Boris Johnson's lockdown plan, announced today, appears to track closely to scenario 5, which will likely allow the R rate to surge to 2 or higher by the end of April

Boris Johnson’s lockdown plan, announced today, appears to track closely to scenario 5, which will likely allow the R rate to surge to 2 or higher by the end of April

SAGE researchers warned that up to another 150,000 Britons could die over the next year if No10 releases lockdown restrictions too early, according to gloomy modelling ministers used to decide on the ‘roadmap’ back to normality.

Doom-mongering analysis presented to SAGE – the Government’s panel of top scientific advisers – took into account several different time-frames for completely easing the draconian restrictions.

The most alarming model took into account placing the nation back into Tier 3/2-style measures on March 29 and then fully lifting lockdown on April 26.

The blueprint – made by ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson and his Imperial team – warned that it could lead to another 154,000 deaths between now and next June.

In comparison, the additional death toll would be kept under six figures if ministers waited until July 16 to ease all restrictions.

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