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Will we go back into lockdown this year? What the experts say so far

Will we go back into lockdown this year? What the experts say so far

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  • Will we go back into lockdown again this year? It’s a concern held by many as experts are raising concerns about new variants and transmissibility. 

    Boris Johnson announced the

    lockdown roadmap

    earlier this year, calling it “cautious but irreversible”. It’s subject to multiple tests to ensure that restrictions are lifting when it’s safe to do so. And so far, the plan has gone ahead without a hitch due to the record-levels of vaccinations. At the time of the writing, almost 70 million people have received a first dose of the

    Pfizer

    , Moderna or

    Oxford vaccine

    .

    However, the

    new Delta variant

    is confirmed to be 40% more transmissible than the variant first identified in Kent last year – which sent us into a third lockdown. A huge spike in infections has meant that this new variant is now the dominant one in the UK. With this in mind, the government are warning that the route out of restrictions may not be straightforward.

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    Will we go back into lockdown this year?

    At the moment, it’s looking like we won’t go back into a full lockdown later this year.

    Half of all adults in the UK have now had both jabs. Three-quarters have received their first dose of the vaccine, a number is continuing to rise day-by-day. However, as millions wait to become eligible for their vaccination, they risk catching, spreading and becoming ill from the virus. Evidence shows that the more people who have the vaccine, the less chance there is for the virus to spread.

    This is one of the reasons why

    local lockdowns

    like we saw last year could certainly be imposed on areas with worrying numbers of coronavirus cases in the coming months. Eight areas have already been advised to adhere to less relaxed social distancing rules, like

    avoiding hugging

    and maintaining a strict 2 metre distance from anyone in a different household. The advice is not enforceable by law, though, as the government clarified recently following accusations of ‘lockdown by stealth’.

    However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that there will be some “trade-offs” in opening up the country again. He said, “We can begin safely to restart our lives and do it with confidence.”

    But he added, “I want to be frank about what exactly that means and the trade-offs involved. The vaccines reduce the danger of Covid: they save lives and they keep people out of hospital. But no vaccine against any disease has ever been 100 per cent effective. So whenever we ease lockdown, whether it is today or in six or nine months, we’ve got to be realistic and accept that there will be more infections, more hospitalisations and therefore – sadly – more deaths, just as there are every year with flu.”

    He went on to say, “Even if we sustained the lockdown indefinitely, which would itself cost lives and do immeasurable harm to our children, we would not be able to eradicate this disease.”

    He also said that there is “no route” to a Covid-free country “or indeed a Zero Covid World”, so the plan going forward was to protect people against the virus rather than try and defeat it altogether. 

    This is by no means a clear-cut refusal to put the country into lockdown again, but the speed of the vaccination programme combined with the government’s plan to lift restrictions would suggest that the government are aiming to not put the UK back into lockdown this year, if possible. 

    To ensure the vaccination programme continues successfully, the government also are considering

    giving the Covid vaccine to children

    . The wider impact of this on infection rates is still under review. But it’s currently believed that

    vaccinating children

    would help to stop the spread of Covid-19 onto more vulnerable groups.

    What have the experts said about a third wave?

    Experts, including Professor Ravi Gupta at the University of Cambridge, have recently warned that the UK is actually already in the early stages of a third wave of Covid-19 infections. He has called on the government to delay the end of lockdown on June 21. Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) team, and Professor Christina Pagel at University College London, have both echoed this call.

    Londoners in face masks walking around as concerns over whether there will be another lockdown in the UK rises

    Credit: Getty

    Professor Hayward has argued that there was a “good argument for caution” as the Delta variant was the dominant strain of Covid-19 in England.

    He told BBC Breakfast that the country was on the cusp of a third wave. “I think what we can see is that this strain can circulate very effectively, although it was originally imported through travel to India, it’s spread fairly effectively first of all within households and now more broadly within communities, so I don’t really see why it wouldn’t continue to spread in other parts of the country.

    “Obviously we’re doing everything we can to contain the spread of that, but it’s likely that more generalised measures may start to be needed to control it.”

    The professor said he was personally concerned about the new variant, adding that “concern largely arises from the fact that it’s more transmissible than the previous variants which was already substantially more transmissible than the variant before that.”

    New data suggests that cases of coronavirus are now doubling every fortnight, although this is based on very recent data. This rise in infections is about as fast or even faster than in September last year. This was when the government’s scientific advisers first suggested another lockdown. However, there were problems with data and diagnosing infections at that time.

    In September last year, hospital admissions were also doubling every fortnight. Now they are staying almost flat across the UK. This achievement is because of the country’s vaccination programme, particularly in older populations, experts suggest. Despite this, some experts have concerns that hospital admissions are still rising in areas affected by the new Delta variant.

    Social distancing: hands, face, space sign in London as concerns are raised over whether there will be another lockdown in the UK

    Credit: Getty

    However another government adviser, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, Sir John Bell, has said that he was “encouraged” by the recent numbers. But he added that advisers needed another week’s data before any decisions on lifting lockdown could be made.

    Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock are waiting for more data before making the decision to ease restrictions this month. They both have said that there is “nothing in the data” to change plans, however.

    Lockdown delay: Could easing lockdown on June 21 be delayed?

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that government is ‘open’ to delaying lockdown easing on June 21.

    Mr Hancock said that June was the earliest time that the government promised restrictions easing, not the confirmed date. Number 10 would “look at the data”, he added, to decide whether more restrictions could lift.

    The Delta variant, first discovered in India, is about 40% more transmissible than variant first located in Kent last year. The health secretary said that Covid vaccines were working though, as hospitalisations were “broadly flat”. But the high transmissibility of the new variant was certainly concerning and plans to lift lockdown are now “more challenging”.

    On BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Matt Hancock said that the government was “absolutely open” to delaying the end of lockdown.

    Technically, the government can delay easing lockdown on June 21 by law. If cases continue to rise sharply and a

    new Covid-19 variant

    becomes more of a concern, or one of the other tests for lifting lockdown isn’t met by the time the restrictions are set to be lifted, the government has the power to either keep lockdown going or increase the restrictions.

    Tests for lifting the lockdown are: 

    • The vaccine programme going as planned
    • Vaccines remaining effective at reducing hospitalisations and deaths
    • Infection rates not risking a surge in hospitalisations and pressure on the NHS
    • No new risks due to variants.

    Following the

    change in the rules on May 17

    , there is only one more set of tests to be run before the lockdown effectively ends. After June 21, England will essentially be out of lockdown completely. The devolved nations have their own roadmaps but are likely to lift restrictions around the same time.

    86 local councils confirmed cases of the new Delta variant this month. However, Boris Johnson said that there is “nothing conclusive to say we need to deviate” from the roadmap.

    “We are looking very carefully at the data…what’s happening…the epidemiology…the extent to which the new variant may be more transmissible.”

    People sitting outside at pub before indoor hospitality opened on May 17

    Credit: Getty

    The government has the right to suspend lifting any rules until July 17 under coronavirus law. This is because the Coronavirus Bill, first put into place at the beginning of March last year, doesn’t expire until 2022.

    The

    Coronavirus Bill

    allows for the UK governments to switch restrictions on when they are needed and enforce another lockdown. It allows them to lift restrictions when the UK Chief Medical Officers advise it’s possible to do so. Until this expires, all measures in the bill – including the capabilities for “reducing unnecessary social contacts” – will stay in place. 

    As epidemiologist Professor Andrew Hayward said recently, it is ultimately up to politicians to make the decisions between the balance of the economy and public health. The most recent announcement around this was the news that

    school days could be extended

    to help pupils catch up on learning following disruption because the pandemic.

    The epidemiologist warned, however, that the new variant would spread even more rapidly if restrictions ease.

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