Boris Johnson’s plan to return to his three-tier local lockdown plan is “not very sensible” because areas with lower restrictions “inevitably” end up with with stricter measures, an infectious diseases expert has said.
John Edmunds, who sits on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the tiered system leads to high numbers of coronavirus cases in all areas as tiers 1 and 2 fail to slow the epidemic down.
Those areas then inevitably end up on a conveyor belt to tier 3 toughest restrictions, including pub closures, but with high rates of infection that take longer to bring down.
The prime minister said this week he plans to place all areas in England back into the tiered system when the current nationwide lockdown ends on December 2.
It’s not a very sensible way of doing things
Discussing the current lockdown, Johnson told the Commons: “As I have already told the House, they (the restrictions) will end on December 2.
“The House has the right to decide, and will vote on whatever measures it chooses to bring in, but we will then go back to the tiered system based on the data as it presents itself.”
Edmunds told an Institute for Government event that tier 3, which was imposed on places like Manchester and Liverpool, did slow the epidemic and “may have reduced the reproduction number to somewhere close to 1”.
But he went on: “The problem with the tiered system is the other tiers don’t slow the epidemic very much and so places that are in the lower tiers inevitably end up in the higher tiers.
“Then we can slow the epidemic down at the higher level.
“But that’s not a very good outcome because then everyone ends up with high incidence so it’s not a very sensible way of doing things.”
Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said lockdown would “probably work” in reducing the incidence of coronavirus across England but warned that restrictions would need to continue until around spring.
And he warned against a return to the summer-style easing up of measures that included chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, which Edmunds suggested lacked any kind of support from disease experts.
″ I can’t imagine any epidemiologists suggesting that that was a good idea,” he said.
“After we release from the lockdown we will still have to have restrictions in place to stop it coming back.
“The idea is to bring the incidence down and then hold it at that lower level rather than at the level where it is now.
“So we’re not going to be just returning to Eat Out To Help Out, I really hope we don’t come December because that would be really unwise.”
Edmunds did however sound a message of hope, predicting vaccines will begin to be administered from early 2021 which “does allow us then to start relaxing a little bit more”.
He said:“I think we will start coming out of the nightmare of this epidemic... around Easter, around a year in is when we’ll really start to come out because we will be vaccinating, we’ll be able to control the epidemic better.”