Easing Covid restrictions before March would be a disaster in the battle against coronavirus and would risk putting the NHS under enormous pressure if lifted prematurely, a number one epidemiologist has said.
Prof John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said Boris Johnson would be very unwise to ease lockdown curbs before the majority of the general public has received vaccinations.
The latest stay-at-home measures, which came into effect on 5 January in England and include schools being closed to all but vulnerable pupils and youngsters of key workers, are due to be reviewed within the middle of February.
Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene and medicine , said: “I think it might be a disaster if we removed restrictions in, say, the end of February once we have skilled this first wave of the vaccination. First of all vaccines aren’t ever 100% protective, then even people who are vaccinated would be still at some risk.
“Secondly, it’s only alittle fraction of the population who would have been vaccinated and if you check out the hospitalisations at the moment, about half of them are within the under-70s, and that they aren’t within the first wave to be vaccinated. If we relaxed our restrictions we might immediately put the NHS under enormous pressure again.”
His comments follow reports in the Daily Telegraph that letters inviting over-70s to book vaccinations could begin arriving as early as next week, with 90% of over-80s in some areas having already been vaccinated.
A total of 3,514,385 Covid-19 jabs happened in England between 8 December and 15 January, provisional NHS England data shows, adding to hopes that ministers could deliver on the 2m doses every week they promised by the top of January.
Despite the acceleration of the government’s inoculation programme and signs the amount of individuals testing positive for coronavirus is starting to level in parts of England, experts have urged for restrictions to stay in situ .
Dr Susan Hopkins of Public Health England has said the easing of any restrictions should be implemented gradually, with the “hands, face, space” guidance advised to stay in situ for a few time.
Some have gone further, arguing that tougher lockdown measures in England are required to realize an equivalent impact because the March shutdown to assist stop the spread of the virus currently overwhelming frontline hospitals.
Prof Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London, is among those saying the spread of the new, more infectious variant meant the restrictions were too lax.
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