Covid-19: Scientists call for 'immediate' national lockdown

30 December 2020, 13:55 | Updated: 30 December 2020, 18:35

Independent SAGE are calling for a national lockdown, with schools moved online for January.
Independent SAGE are calling for a national lockdown, with schools moved online for January. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

The Independent SAGE group of scientists say the government must implement a national lockdown “immediately” to gain control over the spread of coronavirus.

Former Chief Scientific Advisor Sir David King, who chairs the group, described the UK as “in a very serious situation”, warning “delayed and tentative decision making will result in the deaths of tens of thousands more people”.

Meanwhile, Professor Christina Pagel from University College London, cautioned that the death toll will continue to rise for the “the next few weeks at least”, exceeding the number who died in the first wave “at some point in January”.

The stark intervention come ahead of Health Secretary Matt Hancock's announcement that 20 million more people would move into Tier 4. However, he stopped short of introducing a national lockdown.

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So far Boris Johnson has resisted calls to place England into a third national lockdown, instead focusing on a regional approach.

However, at a press briefing, Sir David appealed for the government to take further action: “We are at a turning point in this country and either we turn in the right direction or the wrong direction.”

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“The spread in London has been really rapid, but of course we know that the big spread is coming from the new variant of the virus and this variant is present throughout the country,” he continued.

“We need to get ahead of it spreading rapidly and this is why we are calling for a nationwide lockdown with immediate effect.”

In a tweet posted after Mr Hancock's statement on the new tiering, Independent Sage said they are "unanimous in saying this is not enough".

"The government has a disastrous track record in responding too late. We are desperately concerned this is happening again," they added.

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Independent SAGE are also calling for schools to move online for the entirety of January, to allow for time “to get schools safe for staff and students to return”.

Professor Susan Michie, who is also sits on the government’s SAGE committee, said: “We are suggesting offering online teaching for January in a planned way and using January to make schools safe.

“Getting extra space in unused buildings to allow two meter distancing; having support for improved ventilation in all schools; free masks and encouraging students to wear them; multiple santisier stations.”

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The group is calling for the government to provide laptops and tablets to children and draft in retired teachers to facilitate the “real time teaching of children” from home.

However, Prof Michie added: “In situations where children are not able to have good online teaching at home, we are calling on those children to join the children of key workers and vulnerable children in school.”

Responding to Boris Johnson's claims at a press conference that "schools are safe", Professor Michie tweeted: "This is untrue and prevents the necessary measures that need to be taken to make them safe eg. ventilation & distancing (which requires space in unused buildings & extra staff)."

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Outlining the data behind Independent SAGE’s recommendations, Prof Pagel said: “The problem is by the time we reached the peak in April cases were coming down, we were in a hard lockdown in wave one.

“We are not now and we know that cases are carrying on going up. So this is only going to get worse, this really is quite a critical situation for the NHS.”

She added: “All we can say is it is going to get a lot worse. What we don’t know is what people actually did at Christmas, how many people followed the guidelines, how many people didn’t.

“Unfortunately we are flying a bit blind... but you can see the pressure on hospitals is immense and if it keeps going up by a thousand a day in hospital then we are really going to keep struggling.”