Government coronavirus strategy is 'inadequate', scientists report

7 July 2020, 19:18

Scientists have said the UK government coronavirus plan is "inadequate"
Scientists have said the UK government coronavirus plan is "inadequate". Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The Government's current strategy to deal with coronavirus is "inadequate" and should be replaced with the aim of eradicating the virus from the UK, leading scientists have said.

Dr Gabriel Scally, professor of public health at the University of Bristol, said that the "firm" measures taken across the UK have been successful in curbing the "enormous" death toll but had not succeeded in eliminating the virus.

He said that that the current strategy of the UK Government appeared to be containing the virus at its current level and tackling outbreaks as they flare up, he added.

But, speaking at a BMJ online discussion on Tuesday, the member of Independent Sage said this was "inadequate" and that the Government had consistently failed to heed "broad-based scientific advice".

Independent Sage has proposed a Zero Covid UK strategy to eradicate the virus from the UK and Republic of Ireland and called on the Government to publish its strategic plan for the "rest of the period of the pandemic".

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Dr Scally added: "The firm measures that have eventually been taken across the UK have succeeded in curbing the enormous death toll but what they have not succeeded in doing in much of the UK is curbing the virus.

"Independent Sage has seen no evidence that the Government has a considered strategy for the next stages of handling the pandemic in the UK.

"The level of positive cases (in England) remains high and the Government strategy appears to be one of containing the situation as it is currently and dealing with any outbreaks but that to our mind is inadequate."

The Independent Sage team was set up by former Government chief scientific adviser Sir David King after the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) faced criticism over not being transparent.

In a report, published on Tuesday, Independent Sage said that thousands of lives could be saved by further efforts to suppress the virus through a Zero Covid UK strategy.

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It added: "We fear that the Government has given up trying to control the pandemic further and is hoping that by reacting to local outbreaks as and when they happen (e.g. the current Leicester lockdown), it can keep levels of infection at what they regard as a 'manageable level' (i.e their current quite high but not catastrophic levels).

"Independent Sage believes that this is not acceptable, that we should not give up.

"Thousands of lives could be saved over the next year by a renewed effort to further suppress the virus."

The report proposes five "planks" to a Zero Covid UK strategy starting with a fully developing a "community-based and locally led find, test, trace, isolate, support (FTTIS) programmes" with expanded laboratory provision.

It also said the loosening of lockdown measures in any part of the UK should be restricted until control of the outbreak is achieved in that country and incoming and outgoing travel internationally and within Britain and Ireland should be restricted.

The report said "well designed and scientifically-based" plans to suppress local outbreaks should be put in place and be put through simulations and shared with the public before implementation.

A public information campaign stressing that the situation is not back to normal and that complying with measures will result in the return to normality sooner should also be part of the strategy, it added.

The report said: "The achievement of a zero Covid Britain and Ireland will require the cooperation of the UK Government in Westminster, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and, importantly, the Irish Government.

"The advantages would be manifest and wide-ranging, including the ability to lift all social distancing restrictions, revitalise economies, fully reopen all educational establishments and work towards unrestricted travel arrangements with similar Zero Covid countries."