the times | Wednesday October 14 2020 2GM 7
It was “very disappointing” that minis-
ters ignored calls for a circuit-breaker
lockdown, a government scientific
adviser has said, warning that the
three-tier system would fail as a result.
Andrew Hayward, professor of infec-
tious disease epidemiology at Univer-
sity College London and a member of
the government’s Scientific Advisory
Group for Emergencies (Sage), said
that even top-tier restrictions such as
pub closures would not be enough to
stop Covid-19 cases rising.
Sage advised Boris Johnson on
September 21 that measures such as
banning households mixing, closing all
pubs, restaurants and gyms, moving
universities online plus a short “circuit-
breaker” lockdown were needed to
control the virus. The group said that
urgent restrictions were necessary to
avert a “very large epidemic with cata-
strophic consequences”, documents
However, ministers followed only
one of the committee’s five recommen-
dations: a shift in the government’s
advice on home working.
The documents were released by the
committee with the agreement of No 10
just after the prime minister announ-
ced the three-tier system of restrictions
A government spokeswoman said
that Sage advice was published “when it
is no longer under live consideration”,
saying that “we recognise that local
leaders will find this information useful
when considering further measures.”
In the papers Sage said that “a pack-
age of interventions will need to be
adopted to reverse this exponential rise
in cases”, adding: “Single interventions
by themselves are unlikely to be able to
bring R [the transmission rate] below 1.”
Hospital admissions could reach
their spring peak of 3,000 a day by the
end of this month without “rapid
action”, Sage said. It added that “some
restrictions will be necessary for a
considerable time (at least throughout
Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health
secretary, urged ministers to follow the
advice and said hospitality venues
across the country should shut. “The
health of the economy goes hand in
hand with the health of the public.”
Professor Hayward told the Toda y
programme on Radio 4: “I think it is
very disappointing that we had clear
advice — we needed to take decisive
action several weeks ago.
“And really since that time, all we’ve
done is send students back, introduced
the rule of six, advised people to work
from home if possible but not really
promoted that in any real way and
closed the pubs an hour early. So it’s not
really surprising that we’re continuing
to see large increases in cases. I think it
is clear that even at the ‘very high’ level
of restrictions... they will not be suffi-
cient to reduce R below one.”
Letters, page 28
ppearing so soon after
Boris Johnson presented
this three-tier plan to
control the coronavirus,
documents showing that
his scientific advisers told him
weeks ago such measures would not
be enough might seem embarrassing
for the prime minister (Chris Smyth
However, at a moment when he is
pressing northern mayors to accept
tighter rules, dealing with a
chancellor who wants to keep more
of the economy open and battling
MPs who think present restrictions
go too far, the blunt warnings of
without tougher action were in a
way helpful for Mr Johnson.
The government confirmed last
night that Downing Street agreed to
the documents coming out after a
press conference at which Mr
Johnson sought to pressure mayors
Grim report was mixed blessing for PM
Analysis and councils in the northwest to
accept tougher restrictions.
In this context, Mr Johnson’s
willingness to let his chief medical
officer stand next to him in Downing
Street and say that even tier-three
restrictions would not be enough,
while hinting at a future national
lockdown, make more sense. If No
10 is preparing the ground for
tougher action, the Scientific
Advisory Group for Emergencies has
just done a lot of spade work.
But that is where the helpfulness
ends. Sage’s estimates lay out in
brutal terms just how little room for
manoeuvre Mr Johnson has. If he
was willing to shut schools and
universities again, things would be
easier: those two measures
combined could well be enough to
bring R below one.
As he has ruled out disruptions to
education, controlling the pandemic
becomes much harder, with
Downing Street presented with a
series of measures each of which is
deeply damaging to the economy
without doing much to control cases.
Shutting pubs, restaurants, cafés,
gyms, hairdressers and churches
while banning all socialising could
not be relied on to reduce R by more
than 0.45, which might not be
enough when the number could now
be up to 1.5.
Even these hard numbers give a
misleading sense of certainty about
the messy modelling of human
interactions. One Sage member says:
“The only thing we really know is
that lockdowns work. The longer the
better and the quicker the better.”
Nor is Sage kind to the summer
strategy of encouraging people back
to work and restaurants, warning
against measures that “appear to
promote contradictory goals”.
The danger now is that as cases
rise and hospitals fill, the three-tier
system is rapidly superseded by
debates about another lockdown.
Clarity and consistency will once
again appear in short supply.
run out of intensive care beds
Sage adviser says
tiers won’t work
Chris Smyth Whitehall Editor
Patrick Maguire Red Box Reporter
How to bring R rate down
The R rate is estimated at 1.2 to 1.
but needs to be below 1. Sage has
estimated the impact of measures:
Full lockdown Reduces R by up to 2.
Two-week circuit-breaker Reduces
R to below 1 for a short time, putting
pandemic back by 28 days.
Banning households mixing
Reduces by 0.1 to 0.2.
Work from home orders
Reduces by 0.2 to 0.4.
Closing pubs, restaurants and
cafés Reduces by 0.1 to 0.2.
Closing gyms and leisure centres
Reduces by up to 0.1.
Closing hairdressers and beauty
salons Reduces by up to 0.05.
Stopping face-to-face university
teaching Reduces by 0.3.
Closing schools Cuts by 0.2 to 0.5.
Susan Bostock, a
Covid patient, told a
TV news reporter
who interviewed her
Hospital in Cheshire
that people should
not take the latest
Facemasks and social distancing will
probably be needed for at least another
ten months, the head of the Oxford
University team working to create a
coronavirus vaccine has said.
Andrew Pollard, a paediatric infec-
tion and immunity specialist who is di-
rector of the Oxford Vaccine Group,
said that even if the team’s global trial
were a success, strict measures must
continue to be implemented.
Injections for front-line health work-
ers and other key groups will be avail-
able next year, and even later for the
general public, he told the Daily Mail.
“Life won’t be back to normal until sum-
mer at the earliest,” Professor Pollard
said. “We may need masks until July.”
Kate Bingham, the chairwoman the
UK Vaccine Taskforce, said that the
chance of the Oxford vaccine being
ready before Christmas was “slim”.
Facemasks may be needed
for a further ten months
Ms Bingham said that instead she
hoped that a vaccine from Pfizer Bion-
Tech would be ready before the end of
Both studies are in phase three clini-
cal trials, meaning that the vaccines
have been given to thousands of partici-
pants in the trial to check its safety and
effectiveness. This is the final stage
before researchers submit their data to
regulators for approval. The Oxford
vaccine is being produced by Astrazen-
eca, the British pharmaceutical giant
based in Cambridge.
Ms Bingham said she was “optimis-
tic” from the data she had seen but that
people should not assume a vaccine
would work better than the flu vaccine
— “annual shots based on the strain
that emerges each summer, which we
then get vaccinated for the winter”.
The Covid-19 jabs were likely to be
only 50 per cent effective, she said. “It’s
a mutating virus.”