The UK is on course to repeat the lockdown easing mistakes of last summer, a top scientist advising the government has warned.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a psychologist who serves on a SAGE behavioural science sub-committee, tutted at Boris Johnson’s instruction to people that it was their “patriotic duty” to go to the pub and Rishi Sunak’s controversial ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme.
Speaking on Times Radio on Wednesday, he said those decisions meant that coronavirus infections were never truly low enough – and were bound to spike once kids returned to school in Autumn.
Professor Reicher suggested that, when restrictions are ditched next month infections need to be much lower, test and trace needs to be working effectively, and further support must be available for those needing to self-isolate.
He told Times Radio: “My fear is that we’re on line to repeat the mistakes of last summer – if you remember, the prime minister told us it was our patriotic duty to go to the pub, that people should go to work or they might lose their jobs, we had eat out to help out.
“The consequence was we never got infections low enough to be able to deal with the disease and so when conditions changed in the autumn, when schools went back and people went back to work and universities went back and the weather got worse and we went inside, so infections spiked.
“And I think this time round, we should learn from that and we should get infections low to a point where we we’re in a much better place in the autumn, where we don’t have to reimpose restrictions.
“So I think the real question is how can we do that without inconveniencing people too much?”
Sajid Javid, the new health secretary, has confirmed his intention for 19 July to mark the end of England’s lockdown restrictions.
Javid resisted pressure from Tory MPs to bring forward the date of Step 4 of the road map, but he said there was “no reason” why the 19 July deadline would not be met.
The prime minister signalled that the “terminus” date would mean going “back to life as it was before Covid as far as possible”.
In his first Commons statement since replacing Matt Hancock, Javid told MPs: “There remains a big task ahead of us to restore our freedoms – freedoms that, save for the greatest of circumstances, no government should ever wish to curtail.
“So my task is to help return the economic and cultural life that makes this country so great while of course protecting life and our NHS.”
Javid said he spent his first day in the new job on Sunday looking at the coronavirus data and “testing it to the limit”.
When “freedom day” was delayed from 21 June, a review was announced which could have seen restrictions eased on 5 July – something that ministers have now rejected.
Javid said: “While we decided not to bring forward step 4, we see no reason to go beyond 19 July, because, in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for Covid.
“We know we cannot simply eliminate it, we have to learn to live with it.”