Health minister Edward Agar also dodged journalist questions about whether Downing Street was even taking the advice of the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth is calling for the booster vaccination programme to become a priority so that the country does not have to be locked down again, and NHS representatives want ‘Plan B’ – the backup, stricter strategy – to be brought in immediately.
But as the political row rumbles on, what are the industry experts actually saying?
UCL’s Professor Christina Pagel, independent SAGE member
On 9 Sept 2021, SAGE was *very clear* that acting early was the best line of defence against Covid.
As they did in Sept 2020, the govt ignored them.
The govt has *not* followed their scientific advisors (& hasn't for a while).
Where we are now *was* preventable. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/bbOMo155y2
— Prof. Christina Pagel (@chrischirp) October 19, 2021
Pagel has tweeted in support of further restrictions and even claimed that Downing Street has been ignoring SAGE – the scientific advisory group for emergencies which advises the No.10 – when it comes to plan B. Pagel herself is part of independent SAGE which is not affiliated with the government.
She wrote: “On 9 Sept 2021, SAGE was *very clear* that acting early was the best line of defence against Covid.
“As they did in Sept 2020, the government ignored them. The government has *not* followed their scientific advisors (and hasn’t for a while).
“Where we are now *was* preventable.
“SAGE was explicit in comparing with Europe’s “Vax Plus” approach. Independent SAGE reiterated call for Vax Plus a week later.”
Vax Plus refers to a scheme where vaccines are the primary measure of defence but other restrictions such as masks are brought in too.
Pagel continued: “But, as highlighted in Commons Covid report, we are still repeating mistakes & not learning from abroad. Demand better.”
Sky’s data editor, Ed Conway
Conway looked at the latest data on Wednesday to analyse whether the growing concern over the UK’s infection rates were actually as worrying as they appeared.
He came to the conclusion that the UK is not much higher with its Covid infections when compared to its European nations when the data is broken down.
He tweeted: “In the most recent period (13 Sept – 10 Oct) there were 2,805 Covid deaths in this database, 2,136 of them were fully-vaccinated.
It looks as if the UK is the worst placed of all the countries here – but that misses some important contextData journalist Ed Conway
“Only 557 of were unvaccinated people (by unvaccinated I mean no doses at all). Easy to assume from that the vaccines aren’t working.”
However, Conway said that is not the full picture as the data needs to be broken down by age-groups – and those those over the age of 60 who died from Covid-related causes are, for the most part, unvaccinated.
And here's what you end up with.
Among over-60s, the percentage of these FULLY VACCINATED covid cases (63,767) who go on to die is 3.2%.
Among the same age group, the percentage of UNVACCINATED (2,691) cases who went on to die was 14.3%. pic.twitter.com/bjm8KRtwQ1
— Ed Conway (@EdConwaySky) October 20, 2021
“Let’s deal with the most important function of vaccines: to reduce the likelihood of death,” he tweeted. “Are they doing that?
“The point here is we want to compare like with like.
“Age groups with age groups. Because, as we all know, covid mortality is very age-dependent. So first let’s break down those 2,805 deaths by age.
And unsurprisingly the vast majority (2,486) are among those aged over-60.
“Look at cases alone and it looks as if the UK is the worst placed of all the countries here. But that misses some important context: UK is testing more than most countries...
“Look at other metrics: positivity (cases as % of tests), hospitalisations, deaths, and the UK is, while higher than most of Europe, not an outlier. UK deaths are currently running at about the same level as the EU as a whole.”
OK that’s enough cross-country comparisons. How is the situation in the UK re cases, admissions and deaths? These charts tell some of that story. In short, the vaccines seem to be doing their job. Back in the late 2020 wave, look how correlated those lines were. Not any more. pic.twitter.com/AlGkkLQH1m
— Ed Conway (@EdConwaySky) October 20, 2021
Professor Neil Ferguson, SAGE member
Ferguson, who has been dubbed ‘Professor Lockdown’ from Imperial College London after he helped orchestrate the UK’s first lockdown with the government, said further restrictions may be needed over winter – but did not recommend implementing them right now.
I doubt that we’ll ever get close to lockdown we were in January of this yearProfessor Neil Ferguson
He said: “I don’t think we’re looking at another lockdown... the worst case here are demands on the NHS... it’s very unlikely we’ll see anything like the levels of deaths we saw last year, for instance.
“Coming into the winter, there may be a plan B which needs to be implemented, which involves some rolling back of measures, but I doubt that we’ll ever get close to lockdown we were in January of this year.
“I don’t think it’s a reason to panic right now but I would certainly like to see vaccination booster doses accelerated, vaccinated for teenagers accelerated.”
Chair of the British Medical Association Council Chaand Nagpaul
Nagpaul pushed heavily for the backup plan earlier this week.
He told New Scientist: “The Westminster government said it would enact ‘plan B’ to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed; as doctors working on the frontline, we can categorically say that time is now.
“By the health secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day and we now have the same number of weekly covid deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown.
“It is therefore incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and to protect the NHS.”
— The BMA (@TheBMA) October 21, 2021
Epidemiologist with King’s College London, Tim Spector
Our calls for a more cautious approach to COVID management have gone unheededZOE's Tim Spector
The co-founder of the ZOE Covid symptom app claimed: “With over 80,000 new cases a day the UK really is in trouble.
“This hasn’t happened overnight, but frustratingly our calls for a more cautious approach to COVID management have gone unheeded, despite the upward trends we’ve reported now for several weeks.”
The UK has not had most restrictions in place since July 19, otherwise known as Freedom Day.
Cases have gradually increased but the government has failed to act.
He continued: “As feared, cases have spilled over into the older age group which will certainly lead to more hospitalisations and deaths. The UK needs to act now to prevent the situation from escalating out of control ahead of winter. ”
He said the UK’s flagging vaccine programme and the premature lifting of lockdown restrictions have contributed to the rising Covid levels.
He said: “More needs to be done to encourage, cajole and educate people into getting their jabs, and support those who need them to get their booster shots.”
Spector also pushed for masks on public transport, avoiding large indoor gatherings and working from home where possible.
“Unfortunately, the government’s refusal to take Covid seriously since ‘Freedom Day’ has only encouraged the idea that Covid isn’t worth worrying about. Doing nothing now will just make it worse,” he concluded.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.