The Prime Minister, accompanied by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA), gave a press conference from Downing Street presenting the latest figures and guidance on COVID-19.
Dr Flavio Toxvaerd, University of Cambridge, said:
“Although the PM did not announce any major changes to the current rules at today’s presentation, there was a shift in messaging to emphasise the application of regional and local measures going forward. The PM expressed reluctance to implement across-the-board lockdowns such as the ones that were imposed earlier in the year.
“I think this is the right approach, whenever possible. Controlling the spread of the disease while safeguarding economic and social activity is a fine balancing act so it is right that local conditions should dictate local policy.
“As a general principle, the targeting of measures to specific groups or geographical areas is preferable to one-size-fits-all measures, because they allow us to minimise the damage that social distancing inevitably impose on society and the economy.
“Having said that, it is sometimes difficult to achieve. Shielding the elderly and vulnerable, an example of targeting based on the age and health status of people, has proved extraordinarily difficult.
“Geographic targeting may bring large benefits, but also comes with practical challenges and needs to be coordinated with neighbouring regions. If a town closes pubs and entertainment venues and the next town doesn’t, then we may inadvertently help the disease spread from one to the other. We saw a stark illustration of this in Italy in March, where lockdowns in the North of the country prompted thousands to rush to the South of the country. This shows that regional policies have to be carefully considered and implemented.”
Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, said:
“The latest increase in diagnosed coronavirus infections, hospitalisations and deaths, taken alongside rising weekly averages, all suggest that the virus is now spreading rapidly and existing measures to control the virus are not effective in controlling transmission.
“Based on what we understand about the transmission of the coronavirus, we are likely to see a second wave of infections spread across the UK. A second wave which may be made worse than what we saw in the spring as the NHS is also likely be stretched by the additional demands of the annual flu season.
“In the likely event that further actions to control coronavirus spread are needed over the coming days and weeks, local health authorities guided by regionally based scientific advisors may be able to advise on the best course of action based on the specific communities that they serve. For example, that groups should include a designated driver to help reduce the risk in rural and suburban areas, but that might not be so feasible in city centres where people are less likely to have access to a car and are more likely to pile into public transport causing further crowding.
“At present, the scientific community and wider public are left scratching their heads about the reasoning behind some decisions. It is perfectly valid for regulations such as the Rule of Six or 10pm curfews to be based on more than just epidemiology, behavioural psychology or virology. But to instil greater public confidence and compliance, the government should publish the data used to inform decisions and tell us how they are balancing scientific evidence against economic and social considerations.”
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