Scientists warn of another Covid wave but PM vows to stick to easing lockdown plan

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a media briefing on coronavirus in Downing Street (Photo by Stefan Rousseau-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a media briefing on coronavirus in Downing Street (Photo by Stefan Rousseau-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson said he plans to stick “like glue” to his plans for easing restrictions in England despite warnings that it could create another wave of Covid infections.

The Prime Minister confirmed in a press conference yesterday that shops, hairdressers and pub beer gardens will reopen from April 12 in England and urged the public against complacency when it came to obeying the rules.

Mr Johnson, setting out the move to the second step of the road map on Monday, said the shift was "fully justified by the data"

He said that he had seen "nothing" to make him think he would have to "deviate" from his intention to scrap all restrictions by June 21 at the earliest.

What the scientists have said

However, his comments come despite scientists warning that the easing of lockdown could create a wave of infections similar to what was seen during spring last year.

Modelling from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) showed that, while stage two of the unlocking is unlikely to exert pressure on the NHS, the proposed changes for May and June when social mixing is set to be permitted again could cause hospital admissions to rise to levels seen during January's winter peak.

Stage two of lockdown easing will see some premises allowed to reopen - some of them for the first time in three months - from next week, including non-essential shops, hairdressers and nail salons, gyms, while independent or household visits to libraries, community centres, zoos, theme parks and drive-in cinemas will also be allowed.

Self-contained accommodation including campsites and holiday lets will be permitted to receive guests, and bars and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors, but groups will be limited to two households or by the rule of six.

Easing lockdown ‘may lead to a small surge of cases and deaths’

A paper from experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said their projections suggested stage two of the road map "may lead to a small surge of cases and deaths" but stage four in June, when restrictions are expected to be abolished, could "lead to a larger surge of cases and deaths comparable to that seen during the first wave".

They cautioned their findings were "preliminary" and made "pessimistic assumptions" about the later stages of the road map.

But scientists at the University of Warwick also shared a similar conclusion that a "distinct third wave of infection" would arise due to the current rate of planned unlocking, with hospital admissions peaking between late July and mid-August.

Minutes from the Sage meeting on March 31 said there could be resurgences in hospital admissions "of a similar scale to January 2021 after later stages of the road map".

Coronavirus ‘will be with us for the foreseeable future’

It comes as England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned that coronavirus "will be with us for the foreseeable future" while chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance suggested the pandemic could result in long-term changes in behaviour.

Sir Patrick said better hand hygiene, regular Covid-19 testing and staying away from work when feeling ill were "likely to be important baseline measures" in the future.

A version of this article was published on NationalWorld