Lifting restrictions by September would see ‘significant further disease’

Nilima Marshall and Aine Fox, PA
·2-min read

A total relaxation of social distancing by September when the new school year begins would see “significant further disease”, even with a fast vaccine rollout and high uptake of jabs, scientists advising the Government have warned.

In an undated document published by Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on Friday, the experts noted that a combination of factors, such as more transmissible coronavirus variants, vaccine hesitancy and jabs not working so well in some people, could still lead to people falling ill with Covid-19.

However, they said with measures in place similar to those in late summer last year, a return to normal schooling by then should be “quite achievable”.

The document said: “We see that even with the highest possible uptake and fastest vaccination programme, full relaxation by the time schools return in September would still result in significant further disease.

“Relaxation to much reduced measures allowing schools to operate by then seems realistic however.”

It comes as new research published on Friday suggested that the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is effective at fighting the new UK coronavirus variant.

Coronavirus graphic
(Pa Graphics)

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, said that the vaccine had 74.6% efficacy against the variant, known as B.1.1.7, which was first detected in Kent last year.

The Government also announced on Friday that all adults aged 50 and over should have been offered a coronavirus vaccine by May.

Meanwhile, experts from Sage said there are plans to collect data on those who do not attend vaccine appointments, saying: “Understanding reasons for refusals would also be valuable.”

Another Sage document dated January 14, compiled by scientists at Imperial College London, said that unless vaccination is at three million doses a week, gradual lifting of non-pharmaceutical interventions – such as social distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing – from March 1 to July 1 will lead to “a third wave” of hospital admissions.

Recent figures show that the week to February 3 was the first time more than three million first doses had been given in a seven-day period.

Meanwhile, a Sage meeting on January 21 heard that there is data indicating a rise in younger women in hospital with Covid-19 in the second wave compared with the first, but that the underlying reasons for this were unknown and there was no evidence that it was to do with new variants.