Moving too fast to lift lockdown would lead to a ‘significantly higher’ number of infections and a potential extra 90,000 deaths, government scientists warned last night.
Releasing their modelling of a series of different roadmaps out of lockdown, the Sage group warned that there would be at least another 30,000 virus deaths – even in the ‘most optimistic’ scenario.
And the group said that if all restrictions were lifted rapidly at the end of April there would be a dramatic spike in cases that could see around 91,000 further deaths.
Sage – the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – insisted that without a gradual approach, the pressure on NHS hospitals would peak in June at nearly 60,000 Covid-19 inpatients – higher than even last month’s peak of 39,000 patients.
Moving too fast to lift lockdown would lead to a ‘significantly higher’ number of infections and a potential extra 90,000 deaths, government scientists warned last night. Pictured: Chief medical officer Chris Whitty (left) and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (right) leave Downing Street
Addressing the research, Boris Johnson told MPs: ‘As the modelling released by Sage today shows, we cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and sadly more death’
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, said: ‘The sooner you open up everything, the higher the risk of a bigger resurgence. The slower you do it, the better.’
Addressing the research, Boris Johnson told MPs: ‘No vaccine can ever be 100 per cent effective. As the modelling released by Sage today shows, we cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and sadly more deaths.
‘This would happen whenever lockdown is lifted because there will always be some vulnerable people who are not protected by vaccines.’
The scientists said that, even with the successful vaccination rollout, millions would remain susceptible to infection and death.
The gloomy forecasts, by experts at Imperial College London and Warwick University, were signed off by Sage last week and effectively crushed hopes of a rapid return to normality.
Releasing their modelling of a series of different roadmaps out of lockdown, the Sage group warned that there would be at least another 30,000 virus deaths – even in the ‘most optimistic’ scenario
Scientists were asked to model different scenarios for the roadmap, including relaxing all restrictions in April, or waiting until August. Experts found that ‘all of the relaxation scenarios lead to a third wave of infections’.
A gradual approach to lifting restrictions, over several months, was essential to prevent an ‘unsustainable rise in hospital admissions’.
Sage also modelled the effects of people being allowed single visitors into their homes as early as March 29, which would have allowed Easter reunions.
They stressed that allowing people to mix indoors before June would lead to ‘significantly higher numbers of infections’, resulting in a wave of hospital admissions similar to last month.
The SPI-M modelling group, which reports to Sage, concluded that to keep admissions below levels of the first wave, indoor mixing should not be allowed until June and July.
Professor Angela McLean, deputy chief scientific adviser, said: ‘If you unlock more slowly, the peak that you get is less high.’
We could be in masks for years
Wearing masks and self-isolating if you get a cough could stay in place for years.
Government scientists suggest we follow ‘baseline measures’ indefinitely.
These include avoiding crowded public transport, ensuring good ventilation indoors, and wearing masks in certain situations.
The test, trace and isolate scheme and app are also likely to stay in place.
In a document dated February 17, Sage said: ‘Maintaining baseline measures to reduce transmission once restrictions are lifted is almost certain to save many lives and minimise the threat to hospital capacity.’
Sir Patrick said: ‘The modelling lays out a series of scenarios. None of them are the precise ones which the Government ultimately decided to go for, but they lie between those options.’
He warned that despite huge progress with the vaccine rollout, a large number of people remained unprotected and cases are high. Sir Patrick said the easing of lockdown must be done using a step-by-step approach, so the effect of each measure can be assessed.
He added: ‘That means probably allowing something like four or five weeks between each step – four weeks to be able to measure the effects of the step you’ve just taken, and then a week for people to actually get ready in terms of what needs to happen.
‘You will be flying blind on this if you don’t wait. I think being driven by what the data tells us is happening is the safest way to do this and making sure you make this irreversible… so you’re not then having to suddenly make a U-turn.’
While Sir Patrick praised the vaccine rollout, he warned jabs are not 100 per cent effective and said even if all adults were vaccinated, children would still not be protected.
Israel, which has been a world leader in vaccination, is seeing an increase in hospitalisations among younger people since its older citizens have had the jab, he said.