Tougher lockdown needed if schools to stay open as new Covid strain could be 'catastrophic' without 'Tier 5', says prof

AN EVEN tougher lockdown is needed if schools are to stay open – with Britain facing a "catastrophe" as the new strain of coronavirus spreads, a Nervtag professor has warned today.

Government scientists have reportedly told Boris Johnson he needs to implement stricter measures to stop the virus from spiralling out of control as kids countdown the return to school after Christmas.

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There is no suggestion the tougher measures would be introduced under the term "Tier 5", but the restrictions that are being called for do go further than the current Tier 4 ones.

They could include keeping secondary schools closed and shutting restaurants even for takeaway.

And speaking this morning, Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, warned Britain is entering a "very dangerous, new phase" of the pandemic due to the new, more infectious strain of coronavirus.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Prof Hayward, who is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said: "We're going to need decisive, early, national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February.

"A 50% increase in transmissibility means that the previous levels of restrictions that worked before won't work now, and so Tier 4 restrictions are likely to be necessary or even higher than that."

Prof Hayward said he thought schools would have to return "maybe a little bit later" but that it would mean "we're going to have to have increased, strict restrictions in other areas of society to pay for that".

The Department for Education announced earlier this month secondary pupils would return over a staggered timetable in the new year while mass testing was rolled out in schools.

Tory MPs have said that keeping schools open is a number one priority for the nation with Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, warning “schools opening and closing like a revolving door” risks “damaging the life chances of our next generation”.

Experts have told Mr Johnson that a New Year national lockdown similar to the one in November where schools remain open will not be enough.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has told the PM that because of the new faster-spreading variant of the virus, the R-rate would surge above 1 in January, it has been reported.


 

Just yesterday, the UK recorded its biggest ever rise in cases as 41,385 infections were reported in just 24 hours.

The number of people being treated for the killer bug on wards in England is now 20,426, compared to 18,974 patients recorded on April 12.

And experts have warned the coronavirus vaccine will need to be rolled out at 2million jabs a week to stop a third wave of the bug.

It comes amid fears the new strain may be more easily spread among younger children.

Sage experts are now recommending stronger measures could include keeping secondary schools shut while pubs and non-essential shops remain closed, Politco has reported.

The board of experts has reportedly advised that the R-rate could be kept below 1 if all schools remained closed in January.

'RIGHT THING TO DO'

Yesterday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the Government is still set on staggering the reopening of schools as planned but warned of "trade-offs".

He said the current plan was for primary school pupils, GCSE and A-level students and kids of key workers to return to school next week, with other secondary school students returning the following week.

Mr Gove told Times Radio: "We do keep things under review, and we'll be talking to head teachers and teachers in the next 24, 48 hours just to make sure that our plans… are really robust."

He added: "It is our intention to make sure we can get children back to school as early as possible. But we all know that there are trade-offs.

"As a country we have decided – and I think this is the right thing to do – that we prioritise children returning to school.

"But we have a new strain and it is also the case that we have also had, albeit in a very limited way, Christmas mixing, so we do have to remain vigilant."

Six million more people moved into Tier 4 on Boxing Day, after those already under the tightest coronavirus restrictions celebrated a Covid Christmas.

Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire moved into Tier 4, created in response to a "highly concerning" variant of Covid-19 discovered in the UK and a new contagious strain from South Africa.

London

  • All 32 London boroughs plus City of London

South East

  • Berkshire (Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead, West Berkshire and Wokingham)
  • Brighton and Hove, East Sussex and West Sussex
  • Buckinghamshire
  • Hampshire (all local authorities except New Forest, which is in Tier 3), Southampton and Portsmouth
  • Kent and Medway
  • Oxfordshire
  • Surrey

East of England

  • Cambridgeshire
  • Central Bedfordshire, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton
  • Essex
  • Hertfordshire
  • Norfolk
  • Peterborough
  • Suffolk

The next formal review of tiering decisions will take place by December 30, 2020, and it will determine if 2021 will be another year locked inside.

On Christmas Eve, the PM refused to rule out a third lockdown.

The rapid spread of the new variant, believed to be up to 70 per cent more contagious, saw millions of Brits in London and the South East of England plunged into a Tier 4 lockdown just before Christmas. 

Further areas were put into Tier 4 on Boxing Day amid fears the new strain has already spread across the country.

The PM said: “We believe that we’re going to have to get through this tough period now with, as I have said many times, very tough restrictions, with tough tiering.

“As much as I regret that, I do think it is necessary for us to drive this virus now to stop it running out of control in January.

“We need to buy ourselves time to get the vaccine into as many arms of the elderly and vulnerable as we can.”

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