Ending England's lockdown in December is realistic, says medical chief

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty walks in Westminster
FILE PHOTO: Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty walks in Westminster

LONDON (Reuters) - It is realistic that England's forthcoming national lockdown can end on Dec. 2, chief medical officer Chris Whitty said on Tuesday, as it is designed reduce COVID-19 transmission rates enough to move into less stringent measures.

Whitty said that any decision on whether to extend the lockdown, due to come into force on Thursday, would be for government, but he had faith that the public would adhere to the new restrictions.

Asked if there was a reliable chance of lockdown ending as scheduled on Dec. 2, Whitty said: "The aim of this is to get the rates down far enough that it's a realistic possibility to move into a different state of play at that point in time."

He told lawmakers that the lockdown could reduce the virus reproduction number below 1, but that other measures would be needed through the winter even if full lockdown ended in December.

Whitty and UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance were giving evidence to a parliamentary committee ahead of a vote on Prime Minister Boris Johnson's proposed national lockdown, due on Wednesday, which is expected to pass despite scepticism from some in Johnson's Conservative party.

Watch: What do Covid-19 restrictions mean for upcoming festivities?

Whitty and Vallance defended the models presented to the public to justify a new national lockdown, saying it was realistic to expect that deaths from the second wave from COVID could match the first unless action were taken.

Vallance pointed out that a scenario outlined in September of the possibility of reaching 200 deaths a day, for which he was heavily criticised, had come to pass.

Whitty also criticised the so-called "Barrington Declaration", that advocates avoiding lockdown, protecting the vulnerable and depending on "herd immunity" via natural infections.

"The basis for this is in my view, scientifically... dangerously flawed, operationally impractical and ... ethically a little difficult," Whitty said, adding herd immunity could only be achieved with a vaccine and it would not be possible to shield the vulnerable sufficiently.

"Unfortunately these economically and socially destructive (lockdown) tools are what we've got, in the absence of anything else," he said.

Watch: Lab tests show there's a massive difference in the effectiveness of the best and worst face masks

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Andrew MacAskill and Stephen Addison)