Professor Andrew Hayward, an infectious diseases expert at University College London, said he had a ‘high degree of certainty’ thousands of unnecessary Covid-19 deaths would occur as a consequence of not imposing a circuit breaker lockdown
Thousands of coronavirus deaths in the coming weeks could have been prevented if ministers bowed to pressure for a circuit-breaker last month, a Government adviser claimed today.
SAGE – Number 10’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – first started banging the drum about a harsh two-week shutdown on September 21.
There were just 11 daily deaths on that date, whereas there are about 230 occurring on average every day now.
Professor Andrew Hayward, an infectious diseases expert at University College London, said he had a ‘high degree of certainty’ thousands of unnecessary Covid-19 deaths would occur as a consequence.
The SAGE member – who attended the September 21 meeting – told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme this morning: ‘We know very clearly that the earlier that you do that the more lives you will save.
‘So the actions that we take now affect really the deaths that we see in three weeks or a month’s time and beyond. So early action is essential, and waiting to see if less intense measures are going to work is really quite a dangerous way of doing things.
‘I think if we had chosen a two-week circuit-break at that time we would definitely have saved thousands of lives. And, we would clearly have inflicted substantially less damage on our economy than the proposed four-week lockdown will do.’
Professor Hayward argued a circuit breaker — a form of which has been used in Scotland and Wales to curb rising cases — would also have caused less damage to the fragile economy than the four-week lockdown outlined by Boris Johnson on Saturday night.
After weeks of mocking Labour’s calls for a national lockdown, the PM completed an humiliating U-turn by announcing blanket coronavirus restrictions for England at a prime-time press conference that kicked off at 6.30pm.
The tough action was prompted by dire warnings by his chief scientific and medical advisers that the NHS could be overwhelmed by Covid-19.
They said every hospital in England was on track to be overwhelmed by mid-December and projected thousands of deaths every day by then.
Wales will follow a ‘basic set of national restrictions’ when the country emerges from its 17-day lockdown, First Minister Mark Drakeford has revealed
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford boasts ‘life will resume’ with schools, gyms, shops and churches back open on November 9 thanks to his 17-day ‘firebreak’ lockdown
Wales will follow a ‘basic set of national restrictions’ when the country emerges from its 17-day lockdown, First Minister Mark Drakeford has revealed.
The country’s stringent ‘firebreak’ ends on November 9 and will see non-essential shops, gyms, schools and places of worship reopen.
Mr Drakeford, who will front a coronavirus briefing this afternoon, said people would be urged to work from home but pre-firebreak life would largely be able to resume.
Yet he warned of a return to tougher measures if the public becomes too relaxed or tries to game the rules by pushing them to breaking point.
His lifting of restrictions next week will come four days into England’s fresh nationwide lockdown and further underscore the different strategies being adopted across the Union.
The Labour First Minister called on people to ask themselves what contribution they could make to keep themselves and others safe to judge their actions ‘against that criteria’.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘If we do that then there is a way out of coronavirus that will safeguard us all.
‘If we play it as a game in which your job is to think about what the rule is and see how far you can stretch it, then I’m afraid the weeks ahead will be very difficult indeed.’
He said how people behave would be ‘crucial to giving us a path through to Christmas and beyond’, but signs were so far encouraging.
Mr Drakeford revealed ‘early indications’ show that travel in Wales over the firebreak has been much lower, which suggests people have been following the rules.
‘As I said right at the beginning, it will be a couple of weeks beyond November 9 before we know whether this great national effort has succeeded.’
Pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops will be forced to close when the second lockdown kicks in on Thursday, although, unlike the first lockdown in March, schools will remain open.
SAGE called for a circuit breaker over half-term while schools were out to boost the impact of shutting down the nation without obstructing education.
Professor Hayward warned that delaying the intervention could result in a lockdown which lasts longer than the planned month.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think one of the consequences of not closing secondary schools would be that we may need to be in lockdown for longer than we might otherwise have to be.
‘So, it’s really a trade-off between education and other parts of the economy, and, to a certain extent, the number of deaths that we’re prepared to see.’
Professor Hayward is the second SAGE member to admit publicly that lockdown may be in place for longer than a month because of secondary schools.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said on Sunday the Government may have to reconsider keeping schools open during lockdown if the transmission rate in secondary schools doesn’t drop.
And Professor Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist whose modelling prompted the UK-wide lockdown in March, admitted that the R rate won’t drop as low from the second lockdown because schools and universities are still open.
The National Education Union – which represents more than 450,000 teachers – has called for the Government to close schools and colleges with the introduction of new national restrictions in England, saying that not doing so will mean the measures are less effective.
Its joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: ‘We think it is a real missed opportunity, it’s another half measure and, without school closures as part of it, it is unlikely to have the effect that the Prime Minister wants.’
The country’s biggest teaching union has launched a petition to ‘put schools in lockdown’, which gathered more than 100,000 signatures within hours of the Prime Minister’s speech on Saturday night.
But Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the Government wanted to keep pupils in classrooms even if it meant extending the lockdown.
Schools will be responsible for ensuring they are implementing Covid-secure practices such as staggered break times, one way systems and mask-wearing in hallways.
Similarly, universities will also be allowed to remain open with social distancing measures in place and a mix of online and face-to-face tuition where it is safe to do so.
Students will be expected to adhere to lockdown rules while on campus and only leave their homes for permitted reasons such as for educational purposes.
It has yet to be confirmed whether students will be allowed to go home for the Christmas period.
Asked what difference it would have made if the Government had taken the advice of SAGE, Professor Hayward — who was at the meeting on September 21 — told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Well, we can’t turn back the clock.
‘I think countries like ours that have failed to control Covid have seen they have the highest death rates and the greatest impact on the economy. And, I think we have repeatedly underestimated Covid and done too little too late, really, to control the virus and save both lives and livelihoods.’
He said shutting down multiple areas of transmission at the same time is the ‘single most effective way of stopping the virus from spreading’.
Professor Hayward added: ‘We know very clearly that the earlier you do, the more lives you will save. So the action we take now will affect really the deaths that we see in three weeks or a month’s time or beyond.
‘Early action is essential, and waiting to see if less intense measures are going to work is really quite a dangerous way of doing things.’
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all adopted a form of national lockdown in recent weeks. Only Northern Ireland shut all of its schools, while Wales banned all children in Year 9 and above from attending.
Discussing the prospect of whether schools in England should close in the second lockdown, Professor Hayward argued that ‘there is substantial transmission within secondary schools’.
But he accepted that education needs to be prioritised and that children who do get infected are ‘very unlikely to have severe consequences’.
Professor Hayward said: ‘What we need is for the R to come down to below one.
‘What we need, in other words, is for the number of cases of Covid-19 to start declining very rapidly and if that doesn’t happen, then what we’re going to see is hospitals having to turn away critically ill people with Covid-19, and not be able to treat the backlog of cases of other diseases.’