Britain’s lockdown rules may be needed until the autumn, scientists advising No10 warned today.
‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson — whose grim modelling that 500,000 Britons could die unless action was taken spooked ministers into the first national shutdown last March — said the easing of curbs would be a ‘gradual process’.
Asked if there could be restrictions for many months to come, he said: ‘Yes, and we can’t predict all of these things in advance.
‘We couldn’t have predicted this new variant coming up, but the new variant without doubt will make the relaxation of restrictions more difficult because it is substantially more transmissible.’
Professor Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London and member of SAGE, added: ‘It will be a gradual process to the autumn.’
Dr Susan Hopkins, one of the top officials at Public Health England (PHE), also added that England was likely going to have a ‘difficult time at least until Easter’.
‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson (left) — whose grim modelling that 500,000 Britons could die unless action was taken spooked ministers into the first national shutdown last March — said the easing of curbs would be a ‘gradual process’. Dr Susan Hopkins (right), one of the top officials at Public Health England (PHE), also added that England was likely going to have a ‘difficult time at least until Easter’
Despite his gloomy warning, Professor Ferguson admitted coronavirus cases are plateauing in parts of England.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘I think it’s much too early to say exactly when case numbers are going to start coming down, but in some NHS regions in England and in Wales there’s sign of plateauing.’
London in particular is seeing a drop in the number of positive coronavirus tests, alongside the South East, he said.
‘At the moment, it looks like in London in particular, and a couple of other regions – the South East and East of England – (that) hospital admissions may even have plateaued, though it’s hard to tell they’re coming down.
‘It has to be said this is not being seen everywhere.
‘Both case numbers and hospital admissions are going up in many other areas but, overall, at a national level we’re seeing the rate of growth slow.’
Prof Ferguson, who is director of the Medical Research Council’s Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, said he would expect to see case numbers ‘continue to come down slowly at a national level’ but with regional variations.
‘It will take longer though for hospital admissions – daily admissions – to start coming down and even longer for hospital bed occupancy to come down,’ he said.
Asked how many more weeks of rising hospital admissions and deaths the UK could be looking at, he said: ‘It critically depends on whether the lockdown we’re in the moment will actually control growth in all areas.
‘But I would hope that hospital admissions might plateau, instead of keep going up, some time in the next week.
‘Hospital bed occupancy may continue to rise slowly for up to two weeks and deaths maybe even for longer.
‘We’re going to be well over 1,000 deaths a day, even measured by the date people die rather than the date deaths are reported, before numbers start coming down.’
Professor Ferguson said the total number of deaths in the UK ‘unfortunately is going to be well over 100,000, there’s nothing we can do about that now’.
Only about 20 per cent of the population has been infected so far, which had resulted in 100,000 deaths, he said.
‘So we have to get to very high levels of vaccine coverage in those vulnerable groups before we can reduce the risk of having basically the same number of deaths again.
‘If we only get up to 70 per cent coverage in in the elderly, for instance, that still leaves 30 per cent unprotected plus everybody else.
‘We can still get a very large epidemic, which unfortunately could kill many, many people, so what the modelling and all the analysis and all the groups feeding into Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) says is, we need to be very cautious in how we relax restrictions and try to ensure we get as high a vaccine coverage as possible.’
Professor Ferguson had to quit his role as a Government adviser after breaking rules to see his married lover.
It comes after it was revealed last month that Professor Ferguson was quietly allowed to continue advising the Government’s scientific advisory panel.
No10 said he would no longer attend key SAGE meetings about Covid after he was caught breaking social distancing rules to meet his married lover during Britain’s first lockdown.
But Downing Street confirmed in December that Professor Ferguson continued to sit on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) committee and the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).
Both groups feed data into SAGE and NERVTAG was partly responsible for pushing the Government into cancelling Christmas for 16million people due to its gloomy warnings about the new mutant strain.