Slump in UK COVID-19 Cases Undermines Calls for ‘Plan B’ Lockdown - Epidemiologist
21:23 GMT 25.10.2021 (Updated: 22:05 GMT 25.10.2021)
© PHIL NOBLEPeople on a bus pass a sign encouraging the public to get their COVID-19 vaccine doses in Manchester
© PHIL NOBLE
A recent spike in coronavirus infections prompted alarmed calls for the government to reimpose lockdown measures that have been largely abandoned since July, although the national vaccination programme has reached a high percentage of the population and the death rate has held steady at around 100 per day.
A sharp fall in the number of COVID-19 cases in the UK has belied voices demanding a fourth lockdown to slow the spread.
A University of East Anglia epidemiologist, Professor Paul Hunter, said, according to Sky News, that the country was close to an "epidemic equilibrium", in which new lockdown measures would make little difference.
Just over 36,500 cases were reported across the country on Monday, according to Public Health England (PHE), following a steady decline from Thursday's peak of 52,000.
An earlier rise in infections prompted calls from opposition parties, the NHS Confederation's chief executive, Matthew Taylor, and his former boss at 10 Downing Street, Tony Blair, to call for a return to lockdown measures largely lifted in July — along with the introduction of so-called 'vaccine passports' for entry into public spaces.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has refused to rule out a fourth lockdown as part of a 'Plan B' if case numbers and hospitalisations continue to rise.
Hunter told Sky News that increased immunity levels — with some 90 percent of the population possessing antibodies against the virus — had contributed to the equilibrium.
"Once you reach endemic equilibrium, non-pharmaceutical interventions (social distancing and mask wearing) stop having much of an effect," Hunter said.
"At the moment we're hearing a lot of voices calling for increased restrictions," he added. "But the modelers are predicting incredibly low numbers by mid-December in pretty much all of their scenarios."
"So if they're suggesting that even if we do nothing cases are going to decline substantially, more restrictions don't seem to be the appropriate response," Hunter suggested.
In a possible vindication for Hunter's opinion, a PHE map of new cases showed that areas which had high numbers in the early stages of the pandemic — including London, Manchester, Liverpool, Tyneside and Scotland — were now some of the lowest in the country, while regions largely spared by the first two waves had become hotspots.