You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Decide on 'acceptable' number of Covid infections, scientists urge Government

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 17/02/2021 Sarah Knapton

Replay Video

The Government must decide what is an "acceptable" number of coronavirus infections so Britain can finally move on from the pandemic, scientists have said.

Prof Dame Angela McLean, the chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Defence, said experts were "crying out" for some clarity on when the crisis would be deemed to be over.

____________________________________________________

More on coronavirus:

Download the Microsoft News app for full coverage of the crisis

What UK arrivals will face from February 15 (The Independent)

Could Britain have been more like New Zealand? (The Guardian)

____________________________________________________

Next week, Boris Johnson will set out his vision for easing the country out of lockdown and reopening various sectors of society – but it is still unclear what measures the Government is using to determine when the country has succeeded in fighting the virus.

Speaking at the science and technology select committee, Dame Angela said: "I think it's reasonable to say 'let's not have Covid winters that are any worse than bad flu winters'. But actually, bad flu winters could be quite bad.

"It's one of the things we've cried out for again and again – could somebody in a position of political power tell us what is an acceptable number of infections?"

a person riding on the back of a truck: A patient is taken to an ambulance outside the Royal London Hospital in London during England's third national lockdown - Ian West/PA © Ian West/PA A patient is taken to an ambulance outside the Royal London Hospital in London during England's third national lockdown - Ian West/PA

Dame Angela, a member of the Government's scientific advisory group Sage and also co-chairs the SPI-M Sage sub-group, added: "We do need to decide what level is acceptable, and then we can manage our lives with that in mind."

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said it would be wrong to attempt to get Covid cases to zero.

"If you take the view that no Covid death is acceptable or something of that order, you are writing a blank cheque to do any amount of harm by the measures you have implemented to try and control it," he said, but added that the current data was pointing to "earlier unlocking".

"I completely agree that we don't want to be overly focused on dates – not at all," he said. "We want to be focused on data. But the point I'd make about that is the data is going really well.

"The vaccination rollout is, I think, exceeding most people's expectations. The transmission blocking potential is key. But so, of course, is its actual ability to protect against death and disease, and to keep people out of hospital, and those numbers are looking really good.

"My conclusion from that is if you're driven by the data and not by dates, right now you should be looking at earlier unlocking."

File: People begin coronavirus testing at the Guru Nanak Dev Ji Gurdwara in Moss Side as surge testing for the Kent coronavirus variant on February 09, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images) © Getty File: People begin coronavirus testing at the Guru Nanak Dev Ji Gurdwara in Moss Side as surge testing for the Kent coronavirus variant on February 09, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

It comes as latest data shows that current death rates and hospitalisations are far lower than was projected by the Government's scientific advisers.

Papers released by the Scientific Advisory Group on Medical Emergencies, dated last month, project around 800 deaths a day in England by mid-February, with 2,200 hospital admissions daily.  In fact, hospital admissions for the country have now reached a seven-day average of 1,497 – around one-third lower. 

Deaths are around 40 per cent lower than the modelling by Sage's Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), with a seven-day average of 482.

On Wednesday, scientists suggested that the progress against the measures – previously seen as key to getting Britain out of lockdown – might explain a shift towards a focus on case numbers. It came after Whitehall sources said any significant easing of restrictions, such as the reopening of pubs, is unlikely until case numbers reduce to less than 1,000 a day. 

Prof Carl Heneghan, the director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, said: "We need the Government to be much more explicit about the criteria they are using, and upfront about the decisions being made. 

"It's right that decisions about easing lockdown should be data driven, but this modelling is so far out that it is worrying, and it makes you wonder if they have shifted to focusing on case numbers because the data on other areas is showing such improvements."

Stay alert to stop coronavirus spreading - here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Telegraph

AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon