‘Confusion’ over government approach undermining Covid response – expert warns
“Confusion” over the government’s handling of Covid restrictions is undermining efforts to control the virus, an expert has warned.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a psychologist on the Sage subcommittee who advises ministers on behavioral science, said the government was in a mess because it appeared to have abandoned the “data, not dates” principle.
His comments came as the spread of the Indian variant of the coronavirus casts doubt that the planned lifting of all legal limits on social contacts in England on June 21 will take place.
Experts argued that the restrictions should remain in place until more people have received both doses of a vaccine, amid reports that ministers are making plans for a partial end of the lockdown.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Saturday, Professor Reicher said: “I think we are in deep trouble from the government right now.
“I think the reason for this is that he strayed from his own mantra of ‘data not dates’.
“Very quickly, ‘data and not dates’ became ‘dates and not data’.
“People were promised that things would happen on particular dates and they invested so much in it, and the government invested so much political capital in it, that it became very difficult to do anything else if the data suggested that it was. ‘was reckless. “
Current data suggests that although hospital admissions are increasing in parts of the country affected by the Indian variant, overall admissions remain broadly stable.
Meanwhile, the reproduction number – the R-value – for England is 1 to 1.1, down from 0.9 and 1.1 the week before, suggesting the epidemic is on the rise.
Professor Reicher said: “The data we are seeing right now suggests that we have a problem.
“We don’t know how big the problem is – it could be serious, it could be very serious, we’ll find out in the next week or two.
“But the problem for the government is on the one hand that it cannot delay what it has been promising for so long, but on the other hand it is aware of the dangers of doing so.
“And so you see it in the fact that they’re starting to act in a pretty contradictory way.
“They tell us, for example, when traveling: ‘You can travel abroad, but don’t.
“They say about social contact, ‘You can hug, but please don’t hug.’ They say about the restrictions “No restrictions, but please don’t go in or out of hotspots”.
“This contradiction, this feeling of confusion, I think, undermines the answer.”
He warned that it would be a “blow” to the country’s recovery if a “third wave” were to force it “to retreat”.
“I think it’s really important to take data very seriously and act as firmly as possible to ensure that what is currently a potential crisis does not turn into a real crisis,” he said. he adds.
Professor Anthony Harnden, vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), also said the data should be reviewed “very carefully before it fully unblocks.”
He told BBC Breakfast it was’ best ‘to be’ careful ‘, adding:’ Even if we unlock, if you are in a vulnerable position, especially if you have not been vaccinated, you should continue. to be careful, even if the date of June 21 is advanced.
He added: “I think we are all used to living within limits at the moment and I think it is not an ‘all or nothing’, I think it will be a gradual process, although the date of the June 21 continues. ”
But Jonathan Neame, managing director of Shepherd Neame brewery and pub company, told the Today program that delaying the easing of coronavirus restrictions in England beyond June 21 could hamper economic recovery.
“If it’s delayed by, say, seven days but there is still some outcome, the restrictions will be fully lifted after that, then it will be a marginal impact,” he said.
“If, on the other hand, we go into an additional five week cycle of data review and uncertainty and other reviews at that point, then I think that will put a real brake on the recovery. that happens quite quickly at this point in time, and is really going to undermine consumer and business confidence. “
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters on Thursday he “has not seen anything in the data currently” to turn away from the June reopening target before adding: “But we may have to wait.”
The Times reported that the face covers and home guiding work may remain in place after June 21.
He said ministers were increasingly concerned that the release of the Indian variant could jeopardize the easing of restrictions and are making plans that could lead to a partial end of the lockdown.
But the newspaper added that the Treasury was prioritizing the removal of the “one meter plus” and “interior six rule” measures to help the economy recover.
A review of measures that will be relaxed on June 21 was scheduled for late May, but was postponed due to the Indian variant.
The Department of Health and Welfare announced on Friday that new surge tests are being rolled out in Lancashire after new cases of the Indian variant were detected.
Data from Public Health England shows the majority of people with the variant have not been vaccinated, with just 3% of cases (177 out of 5,599) from February 1 to May 25 having received both doses.
During the period, there were 12 deaths related to the variant, including eight among the unvaccinated.