Social distancing may have to remain in place ‘until end of year’

Scientists have asked the British government to ensure that social distancing is enforced until the end of the year. 

Sunday Telegraph reported that restrictions can only be relaxed once the Coronavirus vaccines are at least 85% effective and a ‘high uptake’ of the jab is vital to avoid another deadly wave of the disease. 

In the paper which was commissioned by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), a sub-group of the government’s SAGE advisory committee, many scientists are said to believe transmissions will be reduced by around 60%.

The report added that even in a best case scenario in which vaccines stop 85 per cent of transmission in those vaccinated, lockdown would have to be kept in place until the end of May to prevent another significant spike in deaths

Data obtained from the University of Warwick suggested that if the current lockdown measures are eased in mid-February, the nation could be hit by another spike in infections by April. 

The Warwick paper models different scenarios for unwinding social distancing. The one ultimately chosen by ministers will hinge on the efficacy of the vaccines in preventing transmission, something likely to differ between products.

If the vaccines provide an average 60 per cent block on transmission, which experts hope, then ending lockdown at the end of May and reverting to the social distancing measures that were in place in early September produces the fewest deaths in the Warwick model.

The researchers said; 

‘Our predictions highlight the population-level risks of early relaxation, leading to a pronounced wave of infection, hospital admissions and deaths.

‘Only vaccines that offer high infection-blocking efficacy with high uptake in the general population allow relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions without a huge surge in deaths.’

One of the paper’s authors, Dr Sam Moore, warned even vaccines with 85% efficacy could be ‘insufficient’ to drive ‘R’ below one.   Dr Moore told the Telegraph:

‘The vaccines are not going to be 100% effective at stopping serious disease.

‘If we get very high infection blocking then this could almost be what delivers us from it, but it would have to be very high.’

While the British National lockdown restrictions will remain in place until at least March 8 – with schools not reopening to most pupils before February half term, Boris Johnson had told a Downing Street press conference that ministers are becoming ‘more confident’ it will reach its target of inoculating the four most vulnerable groups by its February 15 target.

The Prime Minister also warned that plans to ‘gradually reopen our economy and society’ will depend on the effectiveness of the vaccine and whether enough people have taken it. 

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Author: Daniel Said✩✷