Scientific advisors say England's lockdown is being eased too early

30 May 2020, 08:14

Lockdown in England is being eased too early, scientists have said
Lockdown in England is being eased too early, scientists have said. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Number 10 has conceded that lockdown in England is being eased despite scientists saying now is not the time to reduce the risk from the virus as "high".

Boris Johnson had been expected to announce that the risk level from coronavirus was being reduced from 4 to 3 - but this has not been mentioned.

His spokesperson said the risk level remains at 4 - meaning transmission of the virus is “high or rising exponentially” - but at the same time argued it is "coming down".

It comes after some experts claimed the decision to relax measures is "political" - indicating the government is not following the science when it comes to the crucial decisions.

Scientists Sir Jeremy Farrar and Professor John Edmunds, both members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) - said ministers were taking risks by allowing the gradual reopening of shops and schools and larger gatherings to meet in private.

Figures from the ONS currently estimate there are currently around 8,000 new infections every day in England alone, although these numbers do not included data from hospitals or care homes.

Speaking to a media briefing on Friday, Prof Edmunds said this was a "very high incidence level", and said: “Many of us would prefer to see incidence down to lower levels before we relax measures."

He added: "Lifting the lockdown is a political decision”.

The comments come as Britain is set for a weekend of high temperatures ahead of lockdown restrictions being eased in England which will allow up to six people to meet outside if social distancing is observed from Monday.

Police forces have warned that anyone found to be breaking lockdown rules before the changes come into will be fined.

Boris Johnson is easing lockdown measures in England, despite experts warning this could lead to an explosion in Covid-19 cases
Boris Johnson is easing lockdown measures in England, despite experts warning this could lead to an explosion in Covid-19 cases. Picture: PA
Police have warned that anyone breaking lockdown rules will be fined
Police have warned that anyone breaking lockdown rules will be fined. Picture: PA

Sir Jeremy also said the newly-introduced NHS test-and-trace system needed to be "fully working" before measures were eased.

Meanwhile, a tranche of papers released by Sage revealed advice given to the Government in April said it was "likely" the R-value - the average number of people that will contract coronavirus from an infected person - would go above one should non-essential shops be reopened.

Police have urged the public to maintain current safeguards about social contact ahead of the lessening of restrictions next week.

In the Twitter post, Sir Jeremy said: "Covid-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England. Agree with John & clear science advice.

"TTI (test, trace and isolate) has to be in place, fully working, capable dealing any surge immediately, locally responsive, rapid results & infection rates have to be lower. And trusted."

It is feared that by opening non-essential shops, the R could grow above 1
It is feared that by opening non-essential shops, the R could grow above 1. Picture: PA

A document on a Sage meeting from April 13, released on Friday, showed how the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) that advises the Government warned against reopening shops and leisure facilities.

The document said: "There is limited evidence on the effect of closing of non-essential retail, libraries, bars, restaurants, etc, but it is likely that R would return to above 1 and a subsequent exponential growth in cases."

Downing Street warned the public that the meet-ups remain prohibited until after the weekend, with Britain set for hot and sunny weather over Saturday and Sunday.

The Lake District National Park Authority has urged people to "show care and consideration for everyone who lives and works" in the area, while Dorset Police has told people to "go home or elsewhere" if an area looks too busy.

It came after Chancellor Rishi Sunak said self-employed workers will be eligible for a second and final coronavirus grant.

Mr Sunak confirmed that employers must start paying towards the wages of furloughed staff from August.

Rishi Sunak said the schemes had been a "lifeline" for millions of people and businesses, but that as the country comes through the "other side" of the Covid-19 crisis, it was time to adjust them to "ensure those who are able to work can do so".

He has extended the self-employment income support scheme - which has so far seen 2.3 million claims worth £6.8 billion - enabling freelancers to access grants of up to £6,570 from August. Individuals could claim up to £7,500 under the first grant, which launched earlier this month.

And the Chancellor said that businesses will have to start paying National Insurance and tax contributions for staff in August, ramping up to 10% of furloughed wages in September and 20% in October.

Employees on furlough will keep getting 80% of their wages up to £2,500 a month.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds welcomed the extension, but said it was "concerning that there is no commitment within these plans for support to only be scaled back in step with the removal of lockdown".

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