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expert reaction to new measures to curb COVID as announced today by Boris Johnson

In a statement to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the new restrictions being put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

 

Prof Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President, Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

“I very much welcome the Government taking action in response to the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.

“One of the biggest challenges the Government faces now is how to bring the public with them. Our Winter report asked for an effective public health campaign to help the public play their part in stopping the spread of the virus. The announcements today must be backed up with clear, consistent and accessible messaging developed with the people and communities they are intended to reach.

“These public health messages must reach all parts of society, regardless of age, socio-economic background, class, ethnicity or language. The best way to do this is work hand in hand with different communities to co-produce effective messages and understand the best ways to share them. This is particularly important with black Asian and minority ethnic groups who have been disproportionally hit by this pandemic and with young people who are currently experiencing the biggest increase in infection rates – something that must be an urgent priority to address.”

 

Prof Dame Anne Johnson FMedSci, Vice President (International) at the Academy of Medical Sciences and Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at University College London, said:

“I am pleased to see the Government responding promptly to increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases and that they are taking advice from the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Advisor and SAGE. The current increase in virus cases echoes the concerns we raised in our report on preparing for winter 2020, and they must be taken seriously. We recognise the difficulty in achieving a balance of limiting viral spread while enabling people to continue with their lives, livelihoods and education. However, the next few weeks are critical in reversing the increase in the rate of spread and we need to collectively act now to prevent greater future impacts.  

“Each one of us has a part to play and we must urge everyone to follow the new measures that have been announced yesterday (Tuesday 22 September). I was pleased that the Prime Minister provided more clarity on what the public can and can’t do, particularly continuing with social distancing and the new guidance on the use of face coverings and working at home. I wholeheartedly agree with Professor Chris Whitty when he said: “You cannot in an epidemic just take your own risk. Unfortunately, you’re taking a risk on behalf of everybody else. It’s important that we see this as something we have to do collectively.”

“It is vital that anyone who feels ill with possible COVID-19 symptoms isolates until they know if they have the virus. This is one of the most important ways to stop the spread. To prevent this approach having a disproportionately negative impact on our day to day lives we need an accessible, robust and rapid test and trace system – the Government must continue to invest in making this work well for everyone. 

“Alongside stopping community transmission, it is crucial that we make sure that our hospitals and care homes are in the best possible position to prevent spread of the virus. To address the NHS backlog and protect staff and patients, we must be sure that we are doing all we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 in health care settings.”

 

Dr David Strain, Senior Clinical Lecturer, University of Exeter, said:

“The PM has acknowledged that the majority of transmission is happening socially, but has opted to continue to allow up to 6 different households to meet in an unregulated manner. Closing down restaurants and pubs earlier will do little to stave the spread for as long as multiple different households can interchangeably meet up. The rule of six requires strengthening (or ideally replacing) with a mandate that only a limited and nominated number of individuals can get together at all, and that movement between these groups should only have with a quarantine period in between. This would allow for family units and support bubbles to prepare for significant celebrations such as Christmas, Diwali whilst maintaining other social interactions in the meantime.

“I would dispute the PMs assertion that we are better prepared medically for a second wave. Whilst we now have a wider range of facilities in the Nightingale hospitals and are better prepared with consumables such as PPE, the goodwill of healthcare workers that allow the health service to run has been eroded. During the first wave, staff of all grades stepped up on the assurance that “they would be taken care of”. The government has reneged on those assurances, but is now expecting doctors, nurses, therapists, cleaners and a multitude of other allied health care professionals, to put their lives and welfare at risk again.”

 

Dr Rachel McCloy, Associate Professor in Applied Behavioural Science at the University of Reading, said:

“The government appears to be taking a more careful and calculated approach to the latest announcements around tighter restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“What we learnt from how people responded to the last lockdown appears to have been heeded. Last time, the panic buying and over-reaction by some people frightened by the situation was matched by apathy and distrust by others. While the simplicity of the ‘stay at home, save lives’ message worked, the complexity of the range of rules that followed as lockdown was relaxed gave the impression that the government didn’t really know what was going on or how best to respond. There were mixed messages about what was most important: should we be helping to save the economy by going out, or saving lives by staying in?

“Now, some of this messaging has been simplified and illogical loopholes have been closed – for example, shoppers having to wear masks when they were not compulsory for retail staff. The ‘rule of 6’ is also a simplification, although it has suffered in its application to some situations and not others.

“To truly ensure people follow guidelines, the government has to appeal to different people in different ways. While some people are motivated primarily by a willingness to see that they are helping others, other groups are more likely to follow clear and straightforward rules that they can understand, especially if they see these rules as being fair and consistent.

“Punitive measures, increasing fines and sanctions, are less likely to be successful than measures that promote cohesion and working together.

“To bring about mass public behaviour change, the government needs to keep communication clear and consistent, and to trust the public with the rationale behind the changes they are making. Rebuilding trust will be a vital part of this.”

 

Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia, said:

“The new measures as outlined in the PM’s speech to parliament have been widely anticipated and are not a surprise. The new measures will certainly have some impact on the transmissibility of COVID-19, as individual factors and collectively. However, the question is whether or not these measures will in themselves be sufficient to reverse the increase in cases as we move into autumn. It is doubtful that the measures currently being enacted will be sufficient to reduce the R value to below 1 much before this side of Christmas. Ultimately of course every epidemic has to peak and subsequently decline.

“The PM is correct in stating that we are unlikely to see much relaxation for six months, i.e. by March/April. A complete lockdown would almost certainly have a big impact but that would involve closing schools and most commentators agree that that would be an unacceptable additional blow to our children’s education as well as to the economy.

“Given that it is now almost certain we will see big increases in the epidemic over the next two to three months we really need to be focussing on how better to identify, protect and support our more vulnerable citizens. This has been a big omission in the public debate over recent weeks and it is disappointing that such an important issue was not discussed in the PM’s speech.”

 

Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said:

“The urging of people to work from home if at all possible is sensible. There should never have been encouragement of people to return to their workplace. We have already seen outbreaks linked to the office environment, and there is no reason to promote an increase in numbers of commuters travelling on public transport.

“The 10pm curfew will likely have little or no impact. A far better approach would be to shut all pubs and restaurants, and properly compensate businesses and employees for the loss of income. This would ensure that public health is prioritised, and business and staff are in a stronger economic position when they are allowed to resume.

“The Prime Minister also mentioned he will not concede to those who require ‘a permanent lockdown’. This is a curious phrase. I am not aware of anyone who is demanding a permanent lockdown.”

 

Dr Shaun Fitzgerald FREng, Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge, said:

“In essence this is very clearly a message of ‘Hands, face, space, and limit social interactions’, but with a really clear signal that if we choose not to heed this message then there will have to be more stringent measures. But it is our choice.

“It comes down to breaking down the transmission pathways – droplet, contact and aerosol. Let’s all work together to hit these pathways firmly and suppress the spread.”

 

Prof Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health, University of Edinburgh, said:

“These new measures to be applied across England are not as stringent as might have been expected. Some of them are already in place in part of the country with local restrictions.

“What is worrying, however, is that they will be accompanied by sticks but no carrots. Fines will rise for individuals and businesses that don’t comply. The police will be tasked with enforcement and it was mentioned that the military could be called on if needed. But financial support for those required to self-isolate will be limited and there are still no signs that furlough will be extended, despite the inevitable economic consequences of ongoing restrictions. A punitive approach, if not accompanied by adequate support, risks further declines in public support for the UK government. It also risks rising levels of non-compliance. Urgent attention is needed regarding support packages if these new measures are to succeed.”

 

 

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

www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

Declared interests

Prof Bauld: No conflicts 

No others received.

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