Scientific Advisers Warn Tens Of Thousands More Deaths Likely From Lockdown Easing Plans
Scientific advisers have warned any lockdown easing will lead to new infections
The government's leading scientific advisers have predicted there will be at least 30,000 more deaths from the virus as lockdown restrictions are eased.
New documents published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) have found that even a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions is likely to lead to 30,000 more deaths by Summer 2022 because many people will remain vulnerable to the virus.
It comes after scientists from Imperial College London and Warwick University modelled varying speeds for lifting lockdown measures and their impact on hospitalisations and deaths.
The report, published by a sub-group of Sage known as SPI-M-O, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational, found even the most optimistic scenario for exiting lockdown would result in a third-wave of infections.
It comes after Boris Johnson said there was "no credible route to a zero Covid Britain" but insisted restrictions could not be kept in place indefinitely.
"There is therefore no credible route to a zero COVID Britain or indeed a zero COVID world. And we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental well-being, and the life chances of our children," he told MPs.
"And that is why it is so crucial that this roadmap is cautious but also irreversible. We’re setting out on what I hope and believe is a one-way road to freedom."
But the modelling found that even under a slower easing, as proposed by the PM, that the most optimistic results would still result in as many as 30,000 additional deaths.
"All of the relaxation scenarios lead to a third wave of infections," the report warned.
It added that the extent of the impact on health services and deaths was also reliant on the efficacy of vaccines and the rate of easing.
And the group said that provided that vaccines are rolled out quickly, prove to be "highly effective" and are linked with "longer-term" measures to help keep infection rates low then any third-wave of infections would be "well below" those seen last month.Meanwhile, a report from Sage published earlier this month added: "The conclusions from modelling of additional scenarios for releasing of measures are consistent with those from previous iterations of modelling.
"All scenarios show an epidemic resurgence which results in a substantial number of hospital admissions and deaths, though there are differences in the scale and timing (high confidence).
"There remains significant uncertainty about the scale and timing of such resurgence. This uncertainty is greater further into the future. Given this, decisions about changes to restrictions are best made based on epidemiological data rather than based on predetermined dates."
Speaking ahead of the PM's announcement, chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said that ministers should leave at least five weeks before each step of the lockdown easing to ensure they are not "flying blind" over the impact on transmission.
"It's likely you get an increase in cases when you start to open up. That’s likely. Exactly when that occurs and how high the numbers are, it’s not possible to be precise," he said on Monday.
"The sooner you open up everything, the higher the risk of a big resurgence. The slower you do it the better."
He said that once the vaccine had been offered to all adults by spring, who comprise 80 per cent of the population, and even if the vaccine uptake and effectiveness were 80 per cent that "you've got roughly 50 per cent [vaccinated] across the whole population. So it tells you that even at quite high levels of coverage and protection, you've still got a large number of people unprotected.”
Meanwhile, the group concluded that lifting all restrictions by the end of April, as called for by the lockdown-sceptic Coronavirus Research Group, would lead to an even higher death toll.
According to the Imperial analysis, that "very fast" scenario would lead to an estimated range of excess deaths between 52,500 and 146,400 deaths.
Addressing the concerns during his Commons appearance, the PM said: "As the modelling released by Sage today shows, we cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and sadly more deaths.
"This would happen whenever lockdown is lifted, whether now or in six or nine months, because there will always be some vulnerable people who are not protected by the vaccine.”
And further modelling from SPI-M-O also suggested the reopening of schools in England on 8 March could also increase the R-rate – the rate at which the infection spreads – by between 10 to 50 per cent depending on how many children are allowed to return at once.