Coronavirus local infection rates should be reported on news and weather bulletins like pollen rates or UV rays, a cross-party group of MPs has said.
Alongside the reinstating of daily No.10 briefings, this would help make the public more aware of progress in controlling the virus, according to a new proposal for a “national coronavirus exit strategy”.
The New Zealand-inspired plan would see Covid-19 infection rates brought to very low levels for a sustained period, with transmission then minimised by controlling the UK’s borders, and the virus finally eliminated with a nationwide vaccine rollout, it is claimed.
The group argues that the three-step Covid secure UK plan offers “an alternative to living with the virus” and will avoid repeated lockdowns and economic damage before a vaccine is available.
The plan is backed by senior MPs including Liberal Democrat Layla Moran, Tory Dan Poulter, Labour’s Clive Lewis and the SNP’s Philippa Whitford, as well as leading medical and science experts Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University, and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The proposals come after four months of evidence sessions held by the all party parliamentary group (APPG) on coronavirus with health professionals, bereaved families and science and medical organisations. It is backed by the campaign group March for Change.
The first stage would focus on getting the reproduction R rate of the virus below 1 for a “sustained period”.
This would be achieved by introducing a locally-led test and trace system with the response to outbreaks also led at a local level, and financial support available for people who need to self isolate.
Infection screening of people in frontline roles should be boosted while travellers should be Covid tested on arrival in the country.
The group also calls for “clear, unambiguous and simple messaging” from the government, criticising rules such as “one metre plus” which it argues are “open to misrepresentation”.
National broadcasters should also be asked “to report on the local level of infection present as part of each news and weather bulletin, as with the pollen and UV rays” across TV, radio and the internet, while the group also says daily coronavirus briefings should be reinstated.
Once the virus is brought under control, the group argues that most new cases would be brought to the UK from people traveling from abroad.
Stage two of the plan would keep cases in England at lower than 10 cases per million population per day over a seven day rolling average by ensuring there is testing and screening at all UK entry points, alongside quarantine for travellers at regulated locations.
Screening should also be introduced at public transport hubs while test and trace would continue to keep rates low.
Eventually, the government should embark on a mass vaccination programme – the third stage of the plan – to eliminate the virus.
But the group stressed: “It is vital that any government exit strategy does not depend solely on the development of an effective vaccine in the short term.”
Moran, who chairs the APPG, said: “The Covid secure UK plan is based on the principle that by focusing on saving as many lives as possible in the immediate term, you will also save jobs and be able to open up the economy sustainably.
“The UK government’s current plan stops at ‘getting R below 1’ but says nothing about what should happen next, as we saw in the first wave.
“The Covid secure UK plan builds on this and gives a clear path to the next phase of the response and rebuilding the economy, by concentrating our response at the UK’s entry points.”
Poulter said: “The closest equivalent to the plan is New Zealand.
“By bringing their numbers right down and pushing the focus of their response to their borders, they have been able to reopen stadiums to fans and go back to some form of normality.
“Like New Zealand, we are an island or group of islands and we can leverage our geography to our benefit in battling the pandemic.”
McKee added: “The UK government’s approach is based on a false choice or ‘balance’ between saving lives and protecting jobs and the economy. This has given us the worst of all worlds, with some of the highest death rates and greatest decline in GDP anywhere.
“We are doing too little to break the chain of disease transmission while hitting people’s jobs and incomes.
“We now have examples from several countries, in Asia but also elsewhere in Europe, that the countries that have controlled infections most successfully have experienced the smallest hits to their economies.
“The Covid secure UK plan provides an achievable alternative for the UK, where we save lives, restore confidence, secure jobs, and allow us to open up the economy sustainably.”