SAGE expert warns of ‘human disaster’ unless there is a full New Year lockdown: Fears whole of Britain is heading for Tier 4 as new variant is found everywhere

Daily Mail

Britain faces a ‘human disaster’ unless ministers impose ‘stricter’ rules, one of the Government’s scientific advisers has warned amid the looming threat of a full New Year lockdown in England and warnings that the mutant strain of Covid has spread across the entire country.

Professor Robert West, who sits on SAGE’s behaviour science panel, said the Government’s current methods were unlikely to contain the spread of Covid-19. He argued the UK needed to bolster social distancing rules and build a test, travel, isolate and support programme similar to ones seen in East Asia. 

Professor West, a psychologist at University College London, added: ‘It sounds expensive but the alternative could well be a catastrophic collapse in confidence in the country’s ability to control the virus and the economic, human and social disaster that would follow.’

England was put on notice for a New Year lockdown last night. Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was likely that measures would ‘need to be increased’ in areas outside London and the South East, which are in the new lockdown-style Tier Four, because the fast-spreading Covid variant is ‘everywhere’.

Home Secretary Priti Patel added to the fears today, confirming that more areas will be plunged into the toughest tier if coronavirus outbreaks aren’t kept under control and refusing to rule out another national shutdown. She told Sky News: ‘If the virus continues to spread then we will take stronger measures because at the end of the day our objective is to save lives and to keep people safe.’

The Mail understands Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has warned the Prime Minister the number of patients in hospital with coronavirus is on course to match the April peak by New Year’s Eve – and will continue increasing in January.

It was also claimed today that Number 10 was given dire projections early in December, before the mutation was spotted, that health bosses would diagnose 700,000 Covid cases a week in mid-February without tougher action – around three times as many as being recorded currently. Advisers also warned of up to 20,000 weekly hospital admissions and 5,000 deaths, telling ministers the outlook was ‘terrible’.

Downing Street yesterday tried to play down suggestions that a third national lockdown was imminent, but Sir Patrick said the new strain, which is thought to spread up to 70 per cent more easily, was already present ‘around the country’.

He added: ‘It’s localised in some places but we know there are cases everywhere, so it’s not as though we can stop this getting into other places.’ Cases of the mutated strain of Covid have already been seen in Wales and Scotland and there are fears it could be spreading within Northern Ireland.

University College London professor of infectious disease Andrew Hayward backed a national lockdown, telling The Guardian: ‘I think it’s clearer to give a consistent national message because although the levels of risk are different in different parts of the country, they’re still there and they’re still substantial.’

Professor West also told the newspaper No10’s current approach was ‘unlikely’ to contain the virus. He added: ‘We need to reset our strategy and move rapidly to a zero Covid strategy of the kind that many have been proposing.’

Concerns over a third national lockdown came as: 

  • Public health chiefs in Greater Manchester and the Midlands told visitors rom London and the South East to self-isolate for ten days – even if it meant spending Christmas Day alone;
  • Ministers tried to overturn a French ban on lorries entering from the UK, but Emmanuel Macron was said to be demanding virus tests on every lorry driver arriving in France;
  • Downing Street urged shoppers not to panic-buy food after Sainsbury’s warned that supplies of fresh vegetables could be hit by the Channel crossing disruption;
  • More than 40 countries banned flights from Britain in response to the emergence of the new Covid strain;
  • The pound slid and more than £40 billion was wiped off share prices as investors took fright at the prospect of a dual crisis involving Covid and Brexit;
  • Scientists suggested that children might be more easily infected by the new strain;
  • Downing Street said there would be no further changes to Christmas arrangements;
  • Tory MPs stepped up demands for a recall of Parliament to debate the Covid crisis;
  • Rail and coach travellers were offered refunds if they were forced to cancel travel because of the U-turn on Christmas rules;
  • The PM confirmed that 500,000 people in the UK have been given the first shot of the Covid vaccine;
  • University students were told they can travel home for Christmas, even if it involves leaving a Tier Four area.

Discussing the looming threat of all of England being placed within Tier Four, Ms Patel said: ‘Well, I think it is important to say as this virus changes, grows, the Government takes proactive measures.

‘We have seen that, certainly over the last 72 hours, over the weekend, we have seen that happen.

‘The fact of the matter is when you look at various parts of the country coronavirus is around.

‘I remember sitting here last week talking about the surge that we have seen in the virus – look at Wales, look at the east of England, my own county as well, look at London and the rates of transmission.

‘It is inevitable as people travel and of course we are urging people not to travel for the sake of everybody’s health that we have to take strong measures and we are doing that, we are constantly reviewing these measures as well.’

She added: ‘If the virus continues to spread then we will take stronger measures because at the end of the day our objective is to save lives and to keep people safe.

‘But right now it is not for me to preempt any change because obviously there will be a natural review mechanism in two weeks’ time.’

One senior Tory said Boris Johnson had decided against ordering another national lockdown at the weekend only after Chief Whip Mark Spencer warned it would spark a mutiny among Conservative MPs.

Official figures yesterday showed another 33,364 people tested positive for the disease, with more than 2,000 being admitted to hospital in a single day.

The Prime Minister yesterday acknowledged that significant restrictions were likely to remain in place for months, but insisted it would be a ‘very different world’ by Easter.

However, he refused to guarantee that all pupils would be back in class by the delayed start of January 11, saying only that it would be done ‘if we possibly can’.

Yesterday, one Government adviser said it was a mistake to ‘panic’ about the new strain.

Professor Robert Dingwall, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, which advised No 10 on the variant, said: ‘Many of us were surprised to see a document which expressed ‘moderate confidence’ was transformed over the course of 24 hours into a national panic.’

He told LBC Radio it was ‘very hard to see the logic’ for placing London and the South East under Tier Four as the new strain was ‘frankly all over the UK anyway’.

Downing Street yesterday insisted there were no plans to move more areas into Tier Four ahead of the next formal review date on December 30.

But sources said the PM was ‘deeply concerned’ by the extraordinary speed at which the virus has responded after the last lockdown, which ended less than three weeks ago.

Public health officials in the Midlands and the North yesterday urged Southerners not to risk spreading the virus to their regions at Christmas.

Jeanelle de Gruchy, director of public health in Tameside, Greater Manchester, said travellers should self-isolate for at least ten days to prevent a ‘grave situation’ developing.

She added: ‘Other people in the house do not need to self-isolate but no visitors should be allowed in that house at all, even on Christmas Day.’

Government officials confirmed that the warning has no legal force.

Scientists yesterday said the new strain appeared to spread more easily among children, raising fresh concerns about the Government’s ability to keep schools open in hotspot areas.

And Mr Johnson yesterday raised doubts for the first time about whether all schools will remain open.

Asked directly if children would return to the classroom on time, he said: ‘The most useful thing I can tell you at this stage is obviously we want, if we possibly can, to get schools back in a staggered way at the beginning of January.’


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