Independent SAGE: Government's decision to relax lockdown further is 'exactly the wrong approach'

Ellen Manning
·3-min read
CARDIFF, WALES - AUGUST 08: A woman wearing a face visor serves drinks at Gin and Juice gin bar on August 08, 2020 in Cardiff, Wales. Coronavirus lockdown measures continue to be eased as the number of excess deaths in Wales falls below the five-year average. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated he would force pubs, restaurants and shops to close ahead of schools in the event of severe coronavirus flare-ups. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
Independent SAGE said the government's decision to relax coronavirus restrictions further was 'the wrong approach'. (Getty)

The government’s decision to relax coronavirus lockdown measures further is the “wrong approach” if schools will be able to fully open in September, an independent group of scientists have said.

In a briefing on Friday, the group of scientists known as Independent SAGE said the priority should be to push down infections to make sure that schools reopen when the new academic year starts in September.

The experts observed that while deaths are declining and hospital admissions remain low, a rise in cases in countries across Europe is due to a variety of reasons, including tourism, the reopening of bars and restaurants and a relaxation of social distancing as well as people’s attitudes.

Presenting the briefing online, director of the clinical operational research unit at UCL professor Christina Pagel said: “There’s this kind of feeling that it’s over, sometimes people say to me, ‘you’re all doom and gloom’.

“I don’t think it ever helps to only look at the best possible interpretation of the numbers or pretend things are better than they are. Complacency is the handmaiden of these spikes.”

She said while hospital admissions may not be obviously increasing in the UK, they are in Spain, adding: “It’s not like these new spikes are cases without consequence.”

Prof Pagel said the view of Independent SAGE is that the government’s priority should be to keep driving infections down, saying: “The government now deciding to relax restrictions even further seems like the wrong move.”

The briefing comes after the government announced that casinos, bowling alleys and ice skating rinks can reopen, and beauty salons and tattoo studios can offer additional treatments, while indoor and outdoor performances with limited numbers can go ahead.

In a summary of its briefing, Independent SAGE said: “We believe the government priority should be to continue driving down infections to enable schools to fully open in September.

“The good news is that this is achievable - but government relaxing measures further is exactly the wrong approach.”

The panel of independent scientists also shared its five steps to reopening schools safely and making sure they stay open.

They include: reducing the level of the virus in the community and prioritising the opening of schools over things like pubs and casinos; making sure outbreaks in schools are identified early; giving detailed guidance to school; addressing inequaltiy and working with deprived area; and urging the government and local authorities to consult with headteachers, staff and parents.

During questions from the public — including some anonymous teachers — members of the panel addressed the issue of schools reopening.

Stephen Reicher, professor of Social Psychology at the University of St Andrews, told the briefing that what is reopened and in what order says something about what is valued within a society “whether it’s for a child to get an education or the parent to get a drink”.

Other questions tackled the importance of testing of pupils and teachers within schools as well as the issues of equipment and funding and the importance of a contingency plan by the government.

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