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expert reaction to more areas of England moving up into tier 4 (and others into tiers 3 and 2) from Boxing Day

Matt Hancock announced that from Boxing Day a number of regions in England would move up into tier 4 (and some others would move up into tier 3, or tier 2).


Prof Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology, University of Nottingham, said:

“Cases in and around London as we came out of lockdown were as high as many places being put into Tier 3 restructions, but we were told that lower restrictions were possible for London because the population was younger and there was good hospital capacity.  New variant or not, we gave the virus an opportunity to spread, and it took it.  So now we are trying to play catch-up and that means more severe social distancing measures.  They are unpleasant and cause damage, but that’s all we have to control the virus, until the vaccine can be rolled out more widely.”


Dr Andrew Preston, Reader in Microbial Pathogenesis, University of Bath, said:

“We have seen throughout this pandemic that only the more severe restrictions impact the spread of the virus.  If the new variant(s) are more transmissible than previous lineages, then unfortunately tough restrictions will be required to contain them.  Yes, this brings considerable collateral damage, but it’s clear health services cannot cope with ever increasing COVID hospitalisations.  The situation is fast-moving and requires decisive decision making.  Today, the government has recognised that the situation is continuing to deteriorate in many areas and that tougher restrictions are required if the hope it to contain it.  However, with cases rising so quickly, the delay of 3 critical days, with new tiering not taking effect until Boxing Day, will mean that by then, case numbers are going to be much, much higher, and as a result, much, much more difficult to bring down.  If containment is the focus, then unfortunately, the restrictions need to be immediate, despite the fall out this will cause.”


Prof Liam Smeeth, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, and Dean of the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said:

“The new steps taken, extending Tier 4 and tightening up restrictions in many other areas are, sadly, an appropriate and much needed response.  We do need to act now to contain the virus, especially the faster spreading new variant in the UK.  Scientists do not advocate increased control measures because they like restricting peoples’ freedoms or want to damage the economy.  Covid-19 is the single root cause of all the harms: controlling the virus tackles the root cause of the misery.

“The latest figures show greater levels of spread in London, the South East, and Eastern England and at least some of this rise could be attributable to the new UK variant of the virus.  There is pretty strong evidence it is more infectious, so passes between people more easily, and thus spreads more quickly.  This means that low level social distancing measures will be less effective, and to control the spread tighter measures are needed.  In effect, the natural R number of the new UK variant will be higher, so to get this below 1 will need greater efforts to control spread.

“The VERY good news is that there is nothing to suggest the existing vaccines will be any less effective against the new UK variant.  The priorities remain.  These are firstly everyone uniting in collective action to control the spread and limit the damage done by uncontrolled transmission of the virus.  While painful and difficult for everyone, a short period of tighter restrictions now will prevent the devastating effects of uncontrolled spread.  This will speed up how quickly we can get on top of this virus and allow our social and economic lives to return to some kind of normality.

“Secondly, to roll-out vaccination as quickly as possible.  The MHRA, our world leading regulator, has undertaken a rigorous process to ensure the vaccine is safe, and continues to monitor safety very closely.  I urge everyone who is offered the vaccine to have it: this will protect them but also protect those around them and indeed the whole of society.  Achieving a high level of uptake of the vaccination provides a route out of this terrible pandemic for all.”


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


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