Boris Johnson’s announcement yesterday may have come as a huge relief to the British public, but scientists are not so sure. They are warning ministers that tighter restrictions will be needed during the months of autumn and winter.
An assessment conducted by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) stated that a surge in cases will come with several major risks, even if hospitalisations and deaths are low. They said:
[Tighter restrictions] makes it easier to prevent a return to rapid growth in the epidemic which could lead to the NHS being overwhelmed.
Lower infection rates will also reduce impact of post-Covid syndromes and allow more NHS capacity to be used for routine care. There is significant risk in allowing prevalence to rise, even if hospitalisations and deaths are kept low by vaccination.
Their concern is that if a vaccine-evading variant spreads in the UK, strict regulations will have to be put in place for a much longer period of time.
To prevent this from happening, SAGE has advised that some ‘baseline measures’ should remain intact. They've identified that wearing face masks have been a 'highly effective' long-term option that reduces the spread of the virus, and they suggest people to continue covering up their face despite the new freedoms. They've also said that the work-from-home order should be maintained and everyone should self-isolate when they feel sick or are tested positive. The group has established that these baseline precautions are crucial especially as the colder monthsapproach. The group said:
Stronger measures may be desirable for autumn and winter.
During a press conference on Monday, the PM did not rule out the possibility that stricter measures could make a comeback in the following months. He said:
We will continue to monitor the data, and retain contingency measures to help manage the virus during higher risk periods, such as the winter.
We will place an emphasis on strengthened guidance, and do everything possible to avoid reimposing restrictions with all the costs that they bring.