A leading scientific adviser to the UK government has warned that Monday’s lockdown easing in England may have to be reversed and also cautioned against meeting indoors.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) suggested the ban on indoor gatherings should have remained in place and might need to be reimposed.
He said: “I think it is reasonable to just be sensible about knowing where transmission is occurring – mostly indoors … with lots of different people, different families different communities, and I would just restrict that at the moment, personally.”
Asked if he would be meeting friends indoors, he said: “No, I won’t be for the moment,” and added: “Meeting outdoors is much less of a risk.”
Farrar conceded that it was “reasonable” to lift restrictions now, but he said it was “the most difficult policy decision in the last 15 months”.
And he warned the restrictions may have to be reintroduced, if hospital admissions increase in the coming weeks. He said: “We just have to get the information and be reassured that the vaccines have decoupled increased number of cases from people getting sick.”
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He added: “We don’t know that yet and that’s why I think a very careful lifting is reasonable, but we may have to reverse that, if there is escape from the vaccine.”
Farrar said: “I think we will see an increase of cases and infections over the coming weeks, as some of the restrictions are lifted. The key question is whether we have decoupled increased transmission … from the number of people that get ill and need to go to hospital. If we’ve decoupled them, then the country can cope with a marginal degree of increase in transmission.”
He also suggested travel restrictions may have to continue to stop passengers from the UK passing the coronavirus variant first detected in India on to other countries.
Farrar said: “Britain is very connected, and that’s also a concern not only for importation of new variants coming into the country, but also people travelling out of the country there is a risk that this variant B.1.617 could be transmitted from the UK … I think travel should still be very cautious and only when absolutely essential.”
The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, defended the lifting of restrictions.
He said: “There is nothing in the evidence now that we’ve seen that suggests that the vaccine isn’t very effective against the Indian variant.”
However, speaking on Sky News, he said: “We can’t guarantee that everything will be fine. We’ll look at the data, and we’ll make judgments, according to the data that we see. So far so good. We’re reopening on 17 May as we said we should in the way that we said we would. And now we have to see what happens. I’m confident that we’ll be able to get to 21 June and open up normally but I can’t guarantee that now.”
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