UK risks ‘substantial wave’ of Covid infections if lockdown lifts too soon - what scientists are saying

By Rhona Shennan
Monday, 15th February 2021, 2:40 pm
Updated Monday, 15th February 2021, 2:40 pm
Professor Steven Riley warns that the UK could suffer from another "large wave" of Covid-19 infections (Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Professor Steven Riley warns that the UK could suffer from another "large wave" of Covid-19 infections (Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

A scientist advising the Government has said that the UK could face another wave of Covid-19 as big as the current one if lockdown restrictions are lifted too early.

Professor Steven Riley, a member of the Spi-M modelling group, said that while the rollout of the vaccine programme has been “incredibly successful”, it does not mean that safety measures and restrictions can simply be dropped.

‘Potential for another substantial wave of infections’

Speaking to BBC Radio Today, he said: “No vaccine is perfect. We are certainly going to be in the situation where we can allow more infection in the community but there is a limit.

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    “I think scientists are genuinely worried. We don’t want to show that it is an excellent but not perfect vaccine by having another large wave in the UK.

    “Nearly 20 per cent of the UK is 65 years or older. If you do some simple back of the envelope [calculations] for a vaccine that is very good, but not perfect, there is the potential for another really substantial wave. That is not where we want to go in the short term.”

    The professor explained that if we were to “choose to just pretend” Covid-19 wasn’t present any more, and drop our safety measures, then “there is potential to go back to a wave that is a similar size to the one that we are in now”.

    Plans to lift restrictions in England

    Riley’s warning comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson says that he is “optimistic” that he will be able to set out plans for a “cautious” easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England later this month.

    Talking to reporters while visiting a vaccine manufacturing facility in Teesside, the Prime Minister said that while overall number of virus cases remain high, the infection rate was starting to fall, and that the rollout of the vaccination programme has made “huge progress”.

    He said: “I’m optimistic, I won’t hide it from you. I’m optimistic, but we have to be cautious.”

    Johnson said that the Government’s priority was focused on the opening of schools in England on 8 March.

    He said: “Our children’s education is our number one priority, but then working forward, getting non-essential retail open as well and then, in due course, as and when we can prudently and cautiously, of course we want to be opening hospitality as well.

    “I will be trying to set out as much as I possibly can, in as much detail as I can, always understanding that we have to be wary of the pattern of disease. We don’t want to be forced into any kind of retreat or reverse ferret.”

    ‘NHS cannot afford another peak’

    NHS Confederation chairman, Lord Adebowale, said that March 8 is still too soon for schools to return.

    He said that the NHS workforce is “on its knees” and that it “cannot afford another peak”.

    Talking to BBC Radio Today, he said: “I understand the pressure to open schools. We need to do so very safely. I think mid or late March is when we should be reassessing.”