UK on course to repeat Covid mistakes of last summer, Sage expert warns
The UK is in line to repeat its lockdown easing mistakes of last summer, a top scientist who advises the government on its coronavirus response fears.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a psychologist on Sage’s subcommittee on behavioural science, said that Boris Johnson told people it was their “patriotic duty” to go to the pub and also take part in Rishi Sunak’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, designed to boost the ailing hospitality sector.
But speaking to Times Radio on Wednesday, he warned these decisions meant that Covid infections were never at a low enough level and later spiked in the Autumn after children went back to school.
Prof Reicher added that when restrictions are ditched - a step the government currently has pencilled in for 19 July - infections need to be at a much lower level, test and trace needs to work more effectively, and further support is still needed for people who need to self-isolate.
He told Times Radio: “My fear is that we’re on line to repeat the mistakes of last summer - if you remember, the prime minister told us it was our patriotic duty to go to the pub, that people should go to work or they might lose their jobs, we had eat out to help out.
“The consequence was we never got infections low enough to be able to deal with the disease and so when conditions changed in the autumn, when schools went back and people went back to work and universities went back and the weather got worse and we went inside, so infections spiked.
“And I think this time round, we should learn from that and we should get infections low to a point where we we’re in a much better place in the autumn, where we don’t have to reimpose restrictions.
“So I think the real question is how can we do that without inconveniencing people too much?”
Health secretary Sajid Javid said this week that lifting coronavirus restrictions as soon as possible is his “absolute priority”, but stressed the need for caution in order to make sure changes are “irreversible”.
In Parliament he confirmed that the government is still on course to “commence” Step 4 of its roadmap out of lockdown on 19 July.
But Prof Reicher added that test and trace was still not working properly or contacting people quickly enough, and pointed to the lack of support for people to self-isolate.
He added: “It seems to me that if we got right the basic public health moves to suppress infection, we wouldn’t be talking about a high reservoir of infection which can then spike very quickly when conditions change.”