Professor Neil Fergusson, an infectious disease modeller at Imperial College London and member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), has said that there has been an 85% drop in typical social behaviour, which could lead to one of two models for the infection rate – either it will drop fast, like China claims their infection rate has, or we will continue to see strain on the NHS with a slow plateauing of infections. Prof. Fergusson’s comments, on Radio 4’s Today programme are more optimistic than other experts. If Prof. Fergusson is correct then there is a chance we can end the lockdown in May and switch to lighter social distancing. Despite many positive headlines today, Prof. Fergusson did not say that this was more likely than the slow decline, which would require continued lockdown. They just don’t know.
The majority of experts are more pessimistic. Professor Graham Medley, a pandemic modeller, has said that Britain has “painted itself into a corner” with no clear exit strategy from the lockdown. Other experts say that 90% of the population needs to be in lockdown, and take it seriously, for the virus to be properly quashed. 90% would require stricter lockdown rules, and nobody seeking loopholes in the wording.
Ultimately it is a case of “wait and see”. The initial lockdown period ends on 13th April but that will be reviewed according to what is happening in the NHS, and whether the mass testing promised by the government has materialised or not. It seems likely at this stage that the lockdown will continue into May.
The rules of the lockdown have been questioned and both the government and the Crown Court has slightly more precisely defined some of the rules. This is because government ministers were announcing stricter rules than were encoded in law by the Coronavirus Bill. This has created variation in reporting and in police reaction.
In reality, what people will get away with doing is largely at the discretion of the local police force, with encouragement from police chiefs for officers to be understanding and encouraging first. Derbyshire Police are amongst the strictest in the country, largely due to the added strain on emergency services from people driving to beauty spots. It being the potential to need emergency services, and people going to the same places as others, rather than the walking in nature, which pose the problem.
The government has changed the rule on shopping from “once a week” to “as few times as possible”. So we are not restricted from going to the shops when we need to, but should limit going to as few times as possible.
The driving rules have also been made clearer with the addition of a restriction on driving to beauty spots/for exercise. It has been clarified that we should only drive for an essential reason, but those essential reasons can include moving house (but should make all efforts to delay), which allows parents to collect university students. Taking a pet to the vet also counts as essential travel.
Work in people’s homes has been clarified as permissible “for repairs and maintenance” but can only occur in households which are not isolating and do not include any person who is at higher risk.
Work outside the the home has been clarified as highly discouraged, but permissible, mostly in specific industries such as building, where this is not possible.
So what can’t we do? Basically it is illegal to be outside one’s home without a valid reason for being so.
Full government advice can be found on Gov.uk Financial support advice can also be found there.
The success of the lockdown depends entirely on the behaviour of people. Prof. Fergusson said that we could only achieve the potential May date for the end of lockdown if people obeyed the lockdown rules.
Earlier today a government advisor warned that going out in the sun this weekend “will lead to high levels of infections for weeks” as everyone is urged to stay at home. Police have described this weekend, with predictions of 20°, as “the biggest challenge of the lockdown so far.”
The current death toll stands at 4313, with the most recent rise being 708, with a 5 year old as the new youngest death. This puts us at a higher loss of life than Italy experienced at the same point in their epidemic.
Today saw people flouting the lockdown to be outside and it is feared that tomorrow will see the same behaviour. All flouting of the rules has been done with “exercise” as the excuse. Flouting the rules this weekend will lead to more deaths and a longer lockdown, with greater strain on the NHS.
People are reminded that anyone can carry the virus without experiencing any symptoms and that no-one should assume that they are safe for others or that others are safe for them.