Coronavirus: UK ‘back to pre-lockdown choices of March’, warns SAGE member

A member of the government’s scientific advisory group has warned the country is “back to choices faced in early March” before the national coronavirus lockdown.

Sir Jeremy Farrar – part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) that has been making recommendations to ministers throughout the COVID-19 crisis – offered a stark warning as the government considers what action to take amid a significant rise in infections in northern England.

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Commenting on warnings from local health chiefs that some hospitals there could reach maximum capacity in as little as a week or two, Sir Jeremy called for immediate action “to avoid spiralling out of control”.

“We are close to or at events & choices of 13-23 March,” he added, referring to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to order Britons to “stay at home” on 23 March.

Urging ministers to implement a “package of interventions now”, Sir Jeremy added on Twitter: “We are back to choices faced in the early March.

“With the lag time between making a decision, its implementation & its effect measured in weeks the longer the decisions are delayed the harder & more draconian are the interventions needed to change trajectory of epidemic curve.

“Don’t act slower than the speed of the epidemic, don’t get behind an epidemic curve.

“So much harder to turn that epidemic curve around.”

Sir Jeremy, who is director of the Wellcome Trust medical research foundation, last month called for more COVID-19 restrictions and claimed a previous “slow response in February left us quickly and dangerously behind the curve”.

Boris Johnson is expected to carve England into three different lockdown tiers next week, with millions of people facing tougher restrictions.

Pubs, restaurants and leisure facilities are expected to be closed in those parts of northern England put into the highest tier.

Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, on Thursday discussed the rise in infections with MPs from the North and the Midlands.

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The MPs were shown data of coronavirus cases and hospital admissions continuing to rise in the North West, North East and Yorkshire.

The MPs were also shown analysis to suggest pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes counted for around 30% of exposure to COVID-19.

However, one unnamed MP quoted by the Daily Telegraph accused the government of having “cobbled together” the data to justify a decision to close pubs.

The newspaper also reported MPs referring to it as a “dodgy dossier”.

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