Scientists have warned that lessons must be learned from the “mistakes” made previously in relaxing lockdown measures too fast, PA reports.
A number of experts have called for a cautious approach, ahead of Boris Johnson’s announcement next Monday of a “road map” for the lifting of restrictions.
The prime minister is facing pressure from some quarters to set out a swift easing of the lockdown, on the back of a successful rollout of the vaccines.
But Professor Neil Ferguson, who advises the government as part of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), warned that more information is needed about how effective vaccines are going to be.
He told Good Morning Britain:
We have results from scientific studies, clinical trials, but the real world is a different thing and so, again as the government has said, we need to see how much protection vaccinated people have, how quickly death rates come down before we can be completely confident about going that next step and really reopening.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast a “sustainable exit” whereby measures are lifted in a way that does not result in another lockdown is “an important part of our considerations”.
Ferguson said he is “encouraged” by the government’s “cautious strategy” to date, adding: “The thing we don’t want to repeat is what has happened on previous occasions – namely relaxing too fast.”
Echoing this view, Professor Gabriel Scally, president of the epidemiology and public health section at the Royal Society of Medicine, said there needs to be a “strategic plan” for easing restrictions by driving down the virus.
Scally, who is a member of Independent Sage, said cases must come down “consistently”, adding: “We can’t repeat the mistakes that we made in the past by loosening restrictions in places where there still is a lot of circulating virus.”
Ferguson said he feels it is “quite likely” that all schools in England will reopen on 8 March but said there will then need to be two or three weeks to look at how that affects case numbers.
The modelling we and other groups and universities in the UK have been doing would suggest there probably is leeway to reopen all schools.
But of course that poses slightly more of a risk than just, for instance, reopening primary schools.
He said it is a “balancing act”, but added: “My own overall judgment is we probably do have the headroom to reopen schools.”