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‘Long way to go’ before life gets back to normal, warns government adviser

Further lockdowns unlikely in UK, says Sage scientists

Adam Forrest
Saturday 07 August 2021 18:55 BST
‘I think we have to say, be very cautious at the moment, because we haven’t done this before,’ said Professor John Edmunds
‘I think we have to say, be very cautious at the moment, because we haven’t done this before,’ said Professor John Edmunds (PA)

The success of the UK’s Covid vaccine roll-out means further lockdowns are unlikely – but the nation has a “long way to go” before returning to normal, a senior government adviser has warned.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he was “cautiously optimistic” that more lockdown measures would be unnecessary to bring cases under control.

But he said Britons should remain “very cautious” as more workers return to the office and school and university terms begin again – or the country would see an “autumn wave” of Covid cases.

“Will we ever return to completely normal behaviour? I don’t know,” Prof Edmunds told Times Radio on Saturday. “But there’s a long way to go between the sorts of behaviours that we’re collectively making now and the average behaviour that we were making before the pandemic. There is a big difference.”

Prof Edmunds said: “If we go back completely to normal, that will certainly fuel an autumn wave.” Referring to No 10’s decision to lift curbs during a recent rise in cases, he added: “I think we have to say, be very cautious at the moment, because we haven’t done this before.”

It comes as the latest government figures show that a further 103 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19. Saturday’s figures showed there had been a further 28,612 cases – a slight dip on the previous day.

Fellow Sage adviser Professor Neil Ferguson, the scientific advisor who helped mastermind last year’s first shutdown, said more lockdowns are “unlikely” to ever be needed again in the UK to control the virus.

The Imperial College epidemiologist said case numbers could still rise, but a full lockdown or another ramp up in social distancing measures would probably not be required unless the virus “changes substantially”.

Since vaccination had reduced the mortality rate from the coronavirus, the UK would learn to accept its ongoing presence, Prof Ferguson predicted. “I suspect for several years, we will see additional mortality,” he said. “There’s a risk in the winter coming of thousands to tens of thousands more deaths.”

Prof Ferguson also spoke about the scandal which saw him step down from the Sage for a period last year, after he was discovered to have visited a married lover during the height of the first lockdown.

At the time, the then health minister Matt Hancock said he had been left “speechless” when he found out that the scientist dubbed “Professor Lockdown” had broken social distancing rules. But the Tory MP later did the same thing by liaising with his own married lover in breach of restrictions.

Asked if he felt there was hypocrisy at play, Prof Ferguson told The Times: “Actually no, I didn’t. I felt very sorry for everybody involved. Being in the centre of that sort of media storm is horrific, even if there is reason for it.”

Meanwhile, Downing Street was forced to deny reports that Boris Johnson had come into close contact with an aide who tested positive for Covid during a two-day tour of Scotland.

The Guardian reported that a No 10 official who took part in Mr Johnson’s visit was seen “side by side” with him on several occasions, despite the fact the prime minister is not isolating.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “The prime minister regularly visits communities across the UK and all aspects of visits are carried out in line with Covid guidance. The prime minister has not come into close contact with anyone who has tested positive.”

Labour’s Anneliese Dodds criticised Mr Johnson, describing the decision not to self-isolate as “another example of one rule for them and another for everyone else”.

The prime minister will not be heading back to Scotland for his summer holiday this year, according to reports, after it emerged how close he came to “catastrophe” on last year’s staycation in the Highlands.

Mr Johnson got swept out sea while attempting to paddle board, according to a report in The Times. “He nearly drowned,” a government source told the newspaper. “He got swept away and found himself going further and further out.”

The prime minister’s security team was said to have briefly considered calling out a rescue helicopter. But Mr Johnson managed to paddle towards his protection officers, who had swum out to sea to help save him.

Although the prime minister will remain in the UK for a staycation this summer, he is thought to have ruled out returned a return to Scotland after last year’s experiences. The PM is said to have told friends he would go back for a holiday “over my dead body”.

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