England’s lockdown will be reviewed in February but any attempt to ease restrictions would be a ‘disaster’, accodring to an expert (Pictures: PA)
It would be a ‘disaster’ to remove coronavirus restrictions at the end of February, even if the vaccine target is met, according to a leading expert.
Epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds – who sits on the Government’s Sage committee of scientific advisors – warned against lifting lockdown too soon because of the ‘enormous pressure’ it would place on the NHS.
He also said it was ‘likely’ both variants of Covid first detected in Brazil have already made it to the UK before new travel restrictions were introduced.
The UK has been in lockdown since January 4 due to the rapid spread of another strain of the virus, first detected in Kent.
Ministers are aiming to vaccinate all 15million people who are in the top four most vulnerable groups by February 15 and have then said they will review the restrictions.
But Professor Edmunds strongly cautioned against lifting the lockdown any time soon. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think it would be a disaster if we removed restrictions in, say, the end of February when we have gone through this first wave of the vaccination.
‘First of all vaccines aren’t ever 100% protective, and so even those that have been vaccinated would be still at some risk.
‘Secondly, it is only a small fraction of the population who would have been vaccinated and if you look at the hospitalisations at the moment, about half of them are in the under 70s, and they are not in the first wave to be vaccinated.
‘If we relaxed our restrictions we would immediately put the NHS under enormous pressure again.’
A person walks past a ‘Stay Home Save Lives’ government sign in Portsmouth during England’s third national lockdown (Picture: PA)
Professor John Edmunds is a member of the Government’s Sage committee (Picture: REUTERS)
Tougher lockdown rules came into place in Scotland on Saturday. Non-essential shops are no longer allowed to offer click-and-collect services while entering businesses to collect takeaways has also been banned.
Ministers in Westminster have so far stopped short of strengthening the lockdown in England, saying improving case figures show the current rules are working.
Boris Johnson did announce further travel restrictions yesterday as he scrapped the travel corridor scheme that had allowed people from lower risk countries to enter the country without needing to self isolate.
Two variants from Brazil have been identified and Professor Edmunds said it was ‘likely’ that there are already cases of both in the UK before the new rules were introduced.
Signs remind people of the latest restrictions in Portsmouth (Picture: PA)
He said: ‘In terms of the South African one, we had imported cases already by the time we put in additional restrictions for South African travellers.
‘For the Brazilian one… I don’t think there is evidence that we’ve imported cases of the Manaus strain, as far as I’m aware at least, but it is likely that we probably have quite honestly.
‘We are one of the most connected countries in the world so I would find it unusual if we hadn’t imported some cases into the UK.’
Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said there would be lots of new coronavirus variants this year but the current vaccines should protect against the strains circulating in the UK.
He said that new variants were being detected early, and stressed: ‘If indeed we do need to make new vaccines we will be able to stand those up really quickly.’
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