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expert reaction to science briefing given by Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, Prof Stephen Powis and Dr Jane Eddleston

At a televised briefing from Number 10. the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, National Medical Director of NHS England, and the medical lead in Greater Manchester presented current data on COVID-19 around the UK.

 

Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor in Respiratory Sciences and Clinical Virologist, University of Leicester, said:

“This morning’s briefing with Prof Jonathan Van Tam and colleagues was very stark, somewhat grim – and totally necessary.  It revealed the almost inevitability of the current second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic reaching the vulnerable elderly population.

“Enhanced compliance with all the existing local restrictions was called for to try to limit this spread of the virus to our most vulnerable population.  Fortunately, now we have more comprehensive testing (though the important testing of asymptomatic cases is still lagging), and some treatment options (dexamethasone, remdesevir) for improving clinical outcomes for the most severely ill, so hopefully the death rate will now be lower – going into the winter months.

“In terms of total numbers of COVID-19 cases, we are likely to document more cases during the winter than in the first wave – not just because we have more testing, but the number of cases may also be truly higher because of the additional indoor crowding and loss of the lower risk ‘outside’ option, as the weather becomes colder and wetter.  Yet, if we apply the existing restrictions more conscientiously – like social distancing and masking, the rule of 6, the 10 pm curfew (if it continues) and avoid excessive mixing between households, we could also reduce these winter COVID-19 infection rates.

“The problem for many people is that they cannot see the immediate impact of these measures in their own daily lives, which is why they continue to be questioned.  After all, we don’t have two ‘Manchesters’ or two ‘Liverpools’ where one population follows the restrictions and the other does not, to compare the differences.  Instead, we really have to follow these recommendations on faith – and wait for the national statistics to show us the impact, perhaps several weeks later.  We have seen such beneficial outcomes on the control of the virus in many Asian countries where universal masking is just part of everyday life.

“If we continually second-guess the effectiveness of these restrictions and are only variably compliant with them because of this, then these effects will be diluted, leading people to think they are not working and not comply with them further – in a vicious circle, until, they have little or no impact at all.”

 

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

“‘We now have more patients in hospital with COVID-19 than we did when the government announced restrictions on March 23’.  These words from Prof Powis are extremely concerning.  A scenario of the NHS being completely overwhelmed is something we can’t allow, and unfortunately it seems inevitable that more stringent restrictions on our movements will be needed.  Fundamentally, this horrible disease only spreads as a result of interactions between people.  Clearly there are big questions regarding which settings are the ones where transmission happens most, but we know limiting our interactions with others will help curb the spread.

“Today is likely to mark new phase in our fight to tackle the pandemic.  We need to pull together, but mentally rather than physically – this is how we can work to look after each other and of course our NHS and its staff who are putting their lives on the line every day.”

 

 

Graphs presented at briefing: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nhs-data-briefing-12-october

 

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

www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

Declared interests

 

None received.

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