[ENT] SAGE expert says two-week lockdowns at breaks could disrupt coronavirus spread before vaccine

A series of two-week circuit-breaker lockdowns around school holidays could help put the brakes on the spread of coronavirus until a vaccine is developed, a top professor and SAGE expert has said today.

Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who is on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) committee, said the short lockdowns would best be imposed around school holidays – to minimise the impact on children.

He said the upcoming October half-term, the Christmas holiday, and next year’s February break could all be used as dates to base the circuit-breaker lockdowns around.

But he stopped short of backing the mini-lockdowns, which he said were simply proposals.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘So the basic idea, and it is an idea, people say I’m calling for it, but we are not calling for it, it’s work between myself and Professor Matt Keeling and his team, is a proposal.

‘It’s a way of reducing prevalence and having some control over the virus without having to go into severe restrictions before you have to.

Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine also warned some parts of the country could be back to where the country was in March – when national lockdown measures were imposed

He also warned some parts of the country (pictured: Liverpool, which is in the highest tier of an alert system) could be back to where the country was in March - when national lockdown measures were imposed

He also warned some parts of the country (pictured: Liverpool, which is in the highest tier of an alert system) could be back to where the country was in March – when national lockdown measures were imposed

‘Potentially if you can do it half-term, can do it around Christmas holidays and February half term.’ 

Russia spreads fake news claiming Oxford coronavirus vaccine will turn people into MONKEYS in social media disinformation campaign 

A smear campaign has been launched in Russia to discredit the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University scientists.

It aims to spread fear about the vaccine with ridiculous claims that it will turn people into apes because it uses a chimpanzee virus.

Images and video clips suggesting any vaccine made in the UK would be dangerous are circulating on Russian social media.

Some were shown on the Russian TV programme Vesti News, said to be the country’s equivalent of the BBC’s Newsnight.

One image shows Boris Johnson walking into Downing Street, but it has been manipulated to make him look like a yeti. The picture is captioned: ‘I like my bigfoot vaccine’.

Another image shows a chimpanzee in a lab coat from pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca – which is manufacturing the vaccine – brandishing a syringe.

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America’s Uncle Sam appears in another crude image with the message: ‘I want you – to take the monkey vaccine’.

The campaign has the potential to damage the Oxford programme by appealing to anti-vaccine fanatics.

It is aimed to hit sales in countries where Russia wants to sell its own Sputnik V jab.

Last night, AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot condemned attempts to undermine their work.

Meanwhile, Doctor Hilary Jones told Good Morning Britain the attempts at disinformation were ‘utterly ridiculous and shameful’.

The Oxford jab is currently in phase three trials, which are the final stage experiments done on a huge group of people to prove whether it works.

It has already proven to be safe in earlier tests on small groups and has now been given to more than 30,000 people in the UK, US, Brazil and South Africa.

Asked how long the circuit-breaker lockdowns would have to be, he told BBC Radio Four: ‘Well a week isn’t long enough, because it takes somebody infected a day before you go into that break, who will still be infected before you come back, so it would need to be two weeks.’

‘People have said it is kicking the can down the road, but treatment is getting better and there is a prospect of a vaccine and a low prevalence is effective because it makes everything in the system work better.’ 

Professor Medley also warned some parts of the country were heading back to where the country was in March – when national lockdown measures were introduced.

He said: ‘All the evidence is that prevalence is increasing and we are going into a situation where the focus is very much going back on to hospitals and health care.

‘Within a couple of weeks some areas are going to be back to the position they were at the end of March beginning of February.

‘So we are struggling at the moment to understand how we are balancing that imperative of having to prevent healthcare being completely overwhelmed and yet how to mitigate against the damage caused by the prevention, which of cause is huge.’

It comes as a senior government official last night said coronavirus ‘circuit breakers’ should be pencilled in around the school holidays.

Three weeks ago the Sage group of scientists advising ministers recommended a short lockdown to halt the rise in Covid-19 cases, which the Government chose not to follow.

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But yesterday the senior government adviser argued for a ‘whole series’ of circuit breakers planned around when schools break up.

The idea is aimed at causing minimum disruption to schoolchildren while allowing families to plan ahead – although the cost of a temporary lockdown to the economy has been estimated at £2billion a day.

The expert, who did not want to be named, said: ‘One of the things we think would be good would be to plan to have a whole series of these, probably placed around the school holidays so that they didn’t disrupt education – or perhaps add a week to existing holidays.

‘Tell people they’re coming, so everybody can plan for them. And then if you don’t need them well fine, we’ll cancel them. It seems to us that one of the damages of lockdown is that they arrived right out of the blue.

‘Now obviously, you would need to make sure people didn’t all have massive parties the week before the circuit break came into being.’

The suggestion follows a political row after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for a time-limited circuit breaker across the whole of England to try to bring the disease under control.

A government advisor has argued for a 'whole series' of circuit breakers planned around when schools break up to cause minimum disruption to students (stock photo)

A government advisor has argued for a ‘whole series’ of circuit breakers planned around when schools break up to cause minimum disruption to students (stock photo)

Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer previously called for a time-limited circuit breaker across the whole of England to try to bring the disease under control

Some experts have suggested a two-week lockdown involving shutting bars, restaurants and non-essential shops and banning unnecessary travel could buy time to get cases of coronavirus under control.

A circuit breaker similar to this is still being discussed by some academics as an option for next week.

But the Government adviser said that if such a move was implemented, ministers will have ‘lost the benefit of giving people a lot of notice’.

Planned breaks, however, would ‘show to people that we can get on top of this’.

It comes as fellow SAGE member, Professor Jeremy Farrar, said the current base level of restrictions, which includes a 10pm curfew, were the 'worst of all worlds' as they inflicted economic damage while not going far enough to suppress the virus

It comes as fellow SAGE member, Professor Jeremy Farrar, said the current base level of restrictions, which includes a 10pm curfew, were the ‘worst of all worlds’ as they inflicted economic damage while not going far enough to suppress the virus

The official went on to criticise current measures, describing them as ‘useless’ and adding: ‘Not sure I dare say it – the rule of six was actually a loosening of measures for mixing inside households.’

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It comes as fellow SAGE member, Professor Jeremy Farrar, said the current base level of restrictions, which includes a 10pm curfew, were the ‘worst of all worlds’ as they inflicted economic damage while not going far enough to suppress the virus.

The director of the Wellcome Trust told the BBC’s Newscast podcast a short ‘circuit-break’ should have been introduced in September and implored ministers to ‘act’ as soon as possible.

He added that national restrictions were a better option – and making the row over the three-tier system a north-south or party political issue was ‘a very dangerous route’.

Professor Farrar also said that countries had controlled Covid-19 well so far such as South Korea and New Zealand had a ‘national consensus about the way forward’.

He added: ‘I think we’ve got to come together as a country, this fragmentation, and frankly making this either a north-south or a party political issue, that’s a very dangerous route to go on.

‘What we don’t want now is a fragmentation or confusion – one area or region or city pitched against another. I think that would be very, very damaging to public health and the country’s ability to respond.’

Today Boris Johnson is preparing to force Greater Manchester into a Tier Three lockdown despite a furious rebellion from local leaders and Tory ‘Red Wall’ MPs.

A slew of senior Conservative MPs are siding with Manchester mayor Andy Burnham who accused the Government of making Manchester a ‘sacrificial lamb’ by slapping on the toughest lockdown measures – so far only imposed on Liverpool.

He said the North was being treated like a ‘canary in the coalmine’ with experimental restrictions, claiming that if London was in the same position there would be a nationwide clampdown.

Boris Johnson is set to put Greater Manchester on the Government's Top Tier 3 list

But Andy Burnham has threatened legal action if such measures are imposed

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) is set to put Greater Manchester on the Government’s Tier 3 list with or without Andy Burnham’s go-ahead – even though the mayor threatened legal action if it was imposed

But there is mounting speculation the PM will put Greater Manchester on the Tier Three list regardless of Mr Burnham’s opposition.

Lancashire – the other area that the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s ‘Gold Command’ agreed should be upgraded – could be plunged into the restrictions first to set an example, with local leaders admitting the move is ‘inevitable’ given high infection rates.

Talks to thrash out the details and support package for Lancashire went late into the night and are set to resume this morning.

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Tier Three lockdown would see all bars and pubs who do not serve meals shut – as well as a ban on household mixing indoors and in gardens.

In a round of broadcast interviews this morning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the government would rather vote with local leaders ‘if possible’.

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But he accused Mr Burnham of trying to ‘hold the Government over a barrel’ by resisting tougher coronavirus restrictions.

‘Ultimately we need to take action – we can’t have a situation as we have seen in Manchester where Andy Burnham is effectively trying to hold the Government over a barrel over money and politics when actually we need to take action,’ he told BBC Breakfast.

‘The cases there are 470 per 100,000 so it is very serious, and we must take action in the interest of the people of Manchester and the wider area, and if we take those targeted actions in those areas most affected… we get through this and we avoid the national level lockdown.’

Mr Raab urged Mr Burnham to ‘do the right thing by the people of Manchester’.

Wales ‘could be plunged into a circuit-breaker lockdown in the next few days’ as ‘unenforceable’ travel ban comes into effect tonight 

Wales could be just days away from a full ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown in an effort to stop the growing spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The government is speaking with the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies about what further action it can take as the crisis enters the crucial winter months.

It comes after the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced he intends to bar entry from English regions with high levels of Covid-19 if Boris Johnson fails to impose UK-wide travel restrictions. 

News of a possible circuit-breaker came after businesses trying to operate in the hospitality sector pleaded for information on future plans.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the Welsh Government is talking about circuit breaker

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the Welsh Government is talking about circuit breaker

The circuit-breaker would see the whole of Wales put into strict lockdown measures

The circuit-breaker would see the whole of Wales put into strict lockdown measures

Deaths in Wales have begun rising since the summer months saw infections plateau

Deaths in Wales have begun rising since the summer months saw infections plateau

A Welsh Government spokesman said: ‘The measures we have put in place at both a local and a national level, with help from the public, have kept the spread of the virus under check.

‘However, there is a growing consensus that we now need to introduce a different set of measures and actions to respond to the virus as it is spreading across Wales more quickly through the autumn and winter.

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‘We are actively considering advice from Sage and our own group. 

‘A “fire break” set of measures to control Covid-19, similar to that described in the Sage papers, is under consideration in Wales. But no decisions have been made.’

It is thought any strict lockdown decision would not be announced before the weekend.

The key problem facing the government is how they would be able to support people who would no longer be able to go to work.

Minister Eluned Morgan told BBC Radio Cymru: ‘We need to think about several factors when considering this because people are worried about their jobs, and we would have to make sure there was an economic package in place’. 

Yesterday the Welsh First Minister threatened to use number plate recognition cameras to fine English drivers entering his country despite police saying his ban is ‘unenforceable.’

Mark Drakeford announced on Thursday he intended to bar entry from English regions with high levels of Covid-19 if Boris Johnson fails to impose UK-wide travel restrictions.  

But the Police Federation of England and Wales said ‘policing in Wales is already over-stretched due to the pandemic’ and the new measures would add ‘yet another level of complexity to policing’. 

Mr Drakeford defended his proposals on Thursday morning, arguing that the police could use ANPR technology to catch visitors crossing the frontier. 

The Labour Party leader also said holiday providers in Wales should not accept bookings from people in hotspot areas of the UK as he warned existing getaway plans ‘will no longer be able to be honoured’.

In Wales, there are 17 areas under higher local lockdowns, which include rules against entering or leaving the area without a reasonable excuse such as work or education.

However, currently people living in Covid-19 hotspots elsewhere in the UK are free to enter areas of Wales not under restrictions where levels of the virus are low.

Under regulations being prepared, people living in areas with high levels of coronavirus in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be able to travel to Wales.

 The chief executive of the Welsh NHS, Dr Andrew Goodall, said he would also ‘welcome any actions that help us have a control of the levels of community transmission’ when asked if he was in favour of the travel ban.

 

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