The current nationwide lockdown should be extended by 12 weeks to halt the soaring infection rate, an expert has said.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of public health at Edinburgh University, described the nationwide restrictions as “crude” and “catastrophic” for the economy and mental health.
But she said the measures were needed to protect the public and the NHS as she argued that a “three-phase strategy” of measures lasting “for the next 12 weeks” was needed.
“With the numbers we’re at, there’s no other choice,” Sridhar told Times Radio.
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“For me, it’s a three-phase strategy – first is right now, it’s crude, it’s catastrophic for the economy and for people’s mental health, but a lockdown. Get those numbers down, protect the NHS for the next 12 weeks,” she said.
“When we get into March and hopefully numbers are low again and we get into seasonal change, get your testing and tracing and your border measures in place to really suppress.
“And then in the summer, instead of taking your foot off the gas and saying ‘let’s open up everything’, actually think ’how do we prevent this winter from happening again? How do we actually protect that low prevalence, get emergency teams in place in case there are flare ups… go in, have a quick, sharp one-week lockdown and get your testing and tracing to clear the virus.”
The government has previously said that the loosening of lockdown measures will depend on how quickly the nation can be vaccinated.
Announcing the lockdown earlier this week, Boris Johnson offered “the middle of February” as a tentative date for measures to begin easing.
He said: “By the middle of February, if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.”
However, Sridhar added that there were still questions to to be answered about how much protection coronavirus vaccines will afford the public.
She described the three approved inoculations as a "bright spot", but said it was not yet clear how long immunity lasts for or how much of the population would need to be covered to provide herd immunity.
"If you really want to get to some sort of true herd immunity, you're looking at 80-90% of the population, which even with our current roll-out would take you into next fall,” she said.
"We need to make sure at that point, the people who have been vaccinated now still have immunity."
She added: "For me, the vaccine is definitely there, we have to continue roll-out, keep saving lives through protecting vulnerable people with that.
"But it's not a strategy in and of itself and relying on it alone is highly, highly risky, especially with all the new variants and mutations. We need to have a plan and the vaccine supports that plan but it's just your plan."
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