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Coronavirus warning: Cases will SOAR after lockdown unless Boris takes urgent action

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Sir David King, chairman of independent SAGE, said the Government’s refusal to impose measures prior to the half-term holiday – the so-called circuit breaker which they had been demanding for at least a month – amounted to a squandered opportunity to get control of the situation. Sir David, who was Chief Scientific Adviser to both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, was speaking shortly after the imposition of the second lockdown last Thursday, on a day when the UK recorded 25,177 cases of coronavirus. Independent SAGE is a group of scientists who are working together to provide independent scientific advice to the UK government and public on how to minimise deaths and support Britain’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

The Government has let the epidemic run away from them in the sense that the number of cases per day is beyond the capacity of the rather dysfunctional I have to say test and trace system

Sir David King

They advocate the introduction of a revamped find, test, trace and isolate system to go hand in hand with the current restrictions which are in force.

Sir David told Express.co.uk: “Lockdown is a very blunt instrument.

“A find, test, trace and isolate system is the fine instrument with which you control any kind of infectious disease outbreak, whether it is in livestock or the human population.

“You separate those who have the illness, and those who have been in touch with those who have the illness, from the rest of the population, and then we get on with our business.

“That is the whole principle of managing an infectious epidemic. When I ran the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic for Tony Blair, and by the way, he gave it to me to run, that was the principle we used and it was extremely successful.”

Sir David said: “We come to this situation, and both in March and at this point in time, the Government has let the epidemic run away from them in the sense that the number of cases per day is beyond the capacity of the rather dysfunctional I have to say test and trace system set up by the Government.

The Government has let the epidemic run away from them in the sense that the number of cases per day is beyond the capacity of the rather dysfunctional I have to say test and trace system

Sir David King

“It is beyond their capacity to meet even 5,000, which is where we were. That’s why we called for the circuit-breaker.

“So today we are at five times the number of cases and it would therefore take much longer to bring that number of cases down.

“What we are saying is do not undo the lockdown until you have a test, trace and isolate system that is catching at least 85 percent of those people who have the disease or who have been in touch with them, and isolate them and support them.

“So if we could do that with 5,000 then it would take a very short lockdown in the original phase except for the time taken to get the test, trace and isolate system up and running.

“We were estimating about three or four weeks ago that it would probably take the Government about three or four weeks to get a good operative test, trace and isolate system at a local level through GPs and through all the public health systems that had not been used because they had appointed these private sector companies, including 44 molecular biology labs in the public sector.

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“If we go into the lockdown as we are, with schools still open, we think it will take anything between four and six weeks to achieve the point where we are back down to 5,000 cases a day.

“However, if we did not open schools it would take two to three weeks.

“And of course the Government missed the opportunity for using the half-term break as a means of closing schools.

“We were not in favour of closing schools so we accepted it needed to be for a longer period.”

The lockdown is currently in force – but a large bloc of Tory backbenchers are pushing back against any further extension.

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Nevertheless, with the number of cases on Tuesday standing at 20,412 – significantly higher than the threshold proposed by Independent SAGE – Sir David warned against lifting measures.

He explained: “The second of December is when the Prime Minister is taking this back to Parliament.

“But we think it is highly unlikely that by December 2 we would have a fully operating test, trace and isolate system.

“So it has just got to keep running until they are catching a very high percentage of new cases and have learned how to isolate and support everybody so that we get a good take-up of the isolation process.

“At the moment it is just dreadful. As long as you have got people with the disease walking around within the population, the disease will last for a very long time.

“It will rise again and we will have to go into another lockdown.”

Sir David added: “My question to the Government is what is your end strategy? How do you emerge without having to go into one lockdown after another?”

“I think Boris Johnson is going to be very tempted to carry on with lockdown until just before Christmas so he can say: ‘We are all having that good Christmas that I promised.’

“That gives them a bit more time to get the test, trace and isolate system up and operating.

“I have never once heard the Prime Minister or the Minister of Health use the word isolate.

“They talk about testing, but they don’t see to understand that the whole point.

“The people who have had the diseases will develop the antibodies, the disease will die out and so we will emerge without the virus in this country. That’s the way forward.”

Pfizer earlier this week announced trials of its new COVID-19 vaccine indicated it was 90 percent effective – although more data is anticipated and as Sir David pointed out, it was very important it was crucial for any inoculation to be highly effective.

Discussing the breakthrough earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I must stress that these are very, very early days, and we’ve talked for a long time, right about the distant bugle of the scientific cavalry coming over the brow of the hill.

“I can tell you that tonight that today that toot, that bugle is louder, but it’s still some way off. We absolutely cannot rely on this news, as a solution.”

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