Documents prepared for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) were published following the recent surge in cases, and it warned “lockdown alone may not be sufficient to reduce infection rates”. Here are five of the most eye-catching proposals.
The scientists raised concern about lower uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine among minority ethnic groups.
They point to surveys suggesting that Black African and Caribbean community are less likely to be vaccinated compared to white counterparts, and that there was “marked differences” based on ethnicity in willingness to get the jab.
The paper said that Black ethnic groups are the “most likely to be Covid-19 vaccine hesitant” with just 28% reporting intention to vaccinate, followed by the Pakistani-Bangladeshi community.
It stated: “The main barrier to vaccine uptake among minority ethnic groups presented relates to trust and confidence in vaccine safety and efficacy, with historical issues of unethical health research particularly affecting Black communities,”
Improving access and convenience was among the suggestions to improve confidence: “The workplace (for example for healthcare workers from minority ethnic groups), community centres and religious venues may be important settings for facilitating uptake.”
As well as places of worship, the document suggests schools and even “door-to-door efforts” could be used to provide immunisations outside a formal NHS setting.
In light of the third lockdown, the advisers set out measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus within homes.
In response to cases linked to the new, more transmissible variant of the virus, Sage’s suggestions could help to cut the number of infections by up to 15% in just three weeks, they said.
Among them was offering “vouchers for entertainment” to people self-isolating in an effort to improve adherence levels.
It says: “Self-isolation can be distressing. Given that boredom, loneliness and perceived impact on mental health are associated with lower adherence, strategies to reduce these effects should be explored. These could include, as examples: Vouchers for entertainment (e.g. online video or games providers).”
3. “Improve access to gardens and parks”
On the same theme, Sage makes suggestions to tackle problems faced by overcrowded households in deprived areas.
It calls for “emergency” improvements to housing and enhancing state benefits such as winter fuel payments to improve ventilation that would reduce health risks.
It adds: “When the national lockdown is lifted, community spaces and improved access to green infrastructure such as gardens and parks may promote safe meetings of people from different households, reducing the risk of transmission within crowded dwellings.”
4. “Communicate simple safety measures better”
Among the measures suggested for all households, Sage said people should keep a window open at night in a shared bedroom, avoid sharing towels and restrict visitors to only those who are essential, while encouraging them to wear face masks.
Wearing a face covering in your own home is also encouraged if a resident is vulnerable to Covid-19, quarantining after coming into contact with an infected person or isolating after someone in the household has contracted the virus.
And it calls for a “more extensive programme of communication and support ... to increase motivation, skills and capacity to reduce transmission within households”.
Another paper looks at the “natural experiment” of schools being closed at half term and its impact on the spread of the virus.
But it warns of limitations to the Test and Trace system that means that the true contact rates between children and older, vulnerable adults cannot be accurately estimated. The paper says data “should not be used to quantitatively assess the role of children on transmission to high-risk groups”.
They say: “There are major sources of uncertainty in the Test and Trace data: Large amounts of contact records with missing age data. Asymptomatic cases and associated contacts not reported. Under-reporting of contacts for recorded cases.”