Expert comment following media interviews with Profs Neil Ferguson (on BBC Today Programme) and Graham Medley (in The Times) on the future of the UK lockdown.
Dr Rupert Beale, Group Leader, Cell Biology of Infection Laboratory, Francis Crick Institute, said:
“I was puzzled by the comments attributed to Graham Medley regarding harm to children. I am not aware of specific evidence for this and I wonder if the remarks were quoted out of context. It would be profoundly unhelpful to characterise this crisis as a competition between the young and the old. Clearly the social distancing measures introduced by the Government are absolutely necessary. If the NHS is overwhelmed we will be unable to deliver effective care, including to children.
“The work done by Neil Ferguson and his colleagues at Imperial has been vital in guiding the Government’s response to the pandemic. Early indications suggest the current social distancing measures are preventing the NHS from being overwhelmed. We will collectively need to put in a huge national effort to make sure this continues to be the case. I welcome his comments on testing and tracing as part of an ‘exit strategy’, and we are working round the clock to increase testing capacity to ensure this becomes feasible.”
Prof Martin Hibberd, Professor of Emerging Infectious Disease at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said:
“It is good that the science discussion, as mentioned by Profs Ferguson and Medley, has moved towards the lifting of at least some of the lockdown requirements. We can now look to other countries where this has been done successfully and plan for a process that would still allow the NHS to cope.
“The successful strategies we have seen elsewhere involve very large-scale testing of the population and as much contact tracing as possible, to enable the identification of people who are positive for SARS-CoV-2 and so able to transmit the disease. The people identified would need to self-quarantine for 2 weeks. While this strategy was difficult to achieve at the beginning of the outbreak, because of logistic problems in getting the testing done at such a large scale and our lack of experience at large scale contact tracing, we should now be able to overcome these problems.
“While much has been discussed about large scale testing recently, large scale contact tracing has also rapidly developed with the introduction of mobile phone apps that can track your movements and identify perhaps even unknown contacts. A person identifying as SARS-CoV-2 positive could then inform others that they have been in contact with a positive case. Those people so informed, would then need to get themselves tested (and self-isolate if positive).
“A combination of some social distancing measures, extensive testing and automated contact tracing could allow both a more regular social activity and a significant control of the outbreak.”
Prof Keith Neal, Emeritus Professor of the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, University of Nottingham, said:
“One major benefit of the lockdown is that it has given the NHS and other agencies time to bring on board more capacity for managing COVID-19 patients with more beds, more ventilators and more PPE. This capacity will need to be continued. Other countries are more advanced along the epidemic curve and we can learn from these countries when it comes to lifting some restrictions.”
Today Programme https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000h1fk at 1’15” and https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/boris-johnsons-coronavirus-adviser-calls-for-a-way-out-of-lockdown-rd58g6tc9
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