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The government’s strategy of simply “managing” Covid-19 will lead to local epidemics and further lockdowns, the Independent Sage group has warned.
A panel of 13 scientists – which is led by a former government chief scientific advisor – said in a report published on Tuesday the government must instead “suppress” the coronavirus.
“We detect ambivalence in the government’s strategic response, with some advisers promoting the idea of simply ‘flattening the curve’ or ensuring the NHS is not overwhelmed,” the group said.
“We find this attitude counter-productive and potentially dangerous.
“Without suppression, we shall inevitably see a more rapid return of local epidemics and face the prospect of further partial or national lockdowns.”
The group was created to offer alternative views to the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which advises ministers on the pandemic.
It is chaired by Sir David King, who served as the government’s chief scientific advisor between 2000 and 2007.
His group urged the government to resume contact tracing, saying it was “critical” to stop further waves of the epidemic.
The UK abandoned community testing and contact tracing on March 12, with deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries suggesting last week the decision was taken because the country did not have capacity.
“Exit from the current lockdown must encompass a strategy of searching for the virus wherever it appears,” the report said.
Independent SAGE also warned the government was “foolish” to bank on a vaccine for Covid-19 being developed any time soon.
Instead, ministers must take a long-term approach to dealing with the virus and prepare for “recurrent local outbreaks” for at least a year by investing in local healthcare systems and building capacity.
Other recommendations from the group include:
- Not allowing Covid-19 patients to be discharged into care homes.
- Changing the government advice from ‘stay alert’ to a message based on specific action.
- Changing advice so that people who show coronavirus symptoms must stay at home for 14 days, rather than seven.
- Northern Ireland should harmonise its advice with the Republic of Ireland.
King said: “Since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, the government has told us they are ‘following the science’, however in the weeks and months that have followed it has become increasingly apparent that this is simply not the case.”
Independent SAGE group was created by King to look at how the UK could work its way out of coronavirus lockdown.
King, who worked under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, created the board to emphasise the “importance of transparency”.
The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for a response to the report.