Boris Johnson’s key adviser on the coronavirus pandemic has urged the prime minister to find a way of ending the nationwide lockdown, according to a report in The Times.
Graham Medley, an expert in the spread of infectious diseases, suggested the government had “painted itself into a corner” by imposing widespread restrictions on movement that he claims may cause more damage than the epidemic itself.
He suggested the potential harm caused by the restrictions included economic damage. "I don’t mean to the economy generally, I mean to the incomes of people who rely on a continuous stream of money and their children, particularly the school closure aspect," he told The Times.
"There will also be actual harms in terms of mental health, in terms of domestic violence and child abuse, and in terms of food poverty.”
He argued that the UK may still have to reconsider the herd immunity strategy to “allow people to catch the virus in the least deadly way possible”, the newspaper claimed.
This would involve accepting the heightened risk to the elderly rather than harming younger generations with rising unemployment, domestic violence and mental illness, it suggests.
Professor Medley, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also reportedly claimed that the epidemic would inevitably peak again once the lockdown was loosened and people returned to work.
He has previously argued against rushing into banning football games or closing schools, saying that it “feels good but isn’t necessarily evidence-based”.
“My problem with many countries’ strategies is that they haven’t thought beyond the next month,” he told The Atlantic magazine in early March.
“The UK is different. We’re at the beginning of a long process, and we’re working out the best way to get there with the least public-health impact.”
It followed reports that the prime minister was relying on the strategy of creating natural immunity among the population by allowing the disease to spread, rather than impose lockdowns of the kind seen in China and Italy.
Amid widespread criticism of the government’s approach, health secretary Matt Hancock insisted that herd immunity was “a scientific concept, not a goal or strategy”.
Professor Medley himself described herd immunity as a side-effect of the main goal of delaying and reducing the peak of infections, often referred to as “flattening the curve”. A week later, the prime minister ordered the closure of pubs and restaurants. The national lockdown then followed on 24 March.
Mr Hancock predicted on Friday that the UK’s outbreak could peak over Easter, with more than 1,000 deaths in a day. He urged the public to remain indoors during the warm weather over the weekend, warning the public: “People will die”.
The latest figures released on Friday afternoon revealed the death toll had risen by nearly 600 to 3,605. It was also confirmed that two NHS nurses, Areema Nasreen and Aimee O’Rourke, had died after contracting coronavirus.
The UK’s chief nursing officer, Ruth May, on Friday urged Britons to comply with the lockdown, commenting: “This weekend is going to be very warm and it’s going to be very tempting to go out and enjoy those rays but I ask you to remember Aimee and Areema, please stay at home for them”.