Coronavirus: Social distancing may last for a YEAR

Social distancing may last for a YEAR: Astonishing claim by the top scientists behind PM’s coronavirus strategy

  • Strictest policies will have to be enforced for ‘at least half year’, scientists warn 
  • Less severe measures will need to be in place for the remainder of the time 
  • Boris Johnson claimed UK could ‘turn the tide’ on the outbreak in next 12 weeks
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Social distancing will need to be in place for most of the year to prevent the coronavirus pandemic overwhelming hospitals, the Government’s top scientists warned.

The more strict policies such as school closures, working from home and avoiding family and friends will have to be enforced for ‘at least half the year’, they predict.

Less severe measures including seven days in isolation if someone develops a cough or a temperature will need to be in place for the remainder of the time.

An upbeat Prime Minister told a press conference on Thursday that he was ‘absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country’ 

The sombre recommendations from the leading scientists were published a day after Boris Johnson claimed the nation could ‘turn the tide’ on the outbreak ‘within the next 12 weeks’.

An upbeat Prime Minister told a press conference on Thursday that he was ‘absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country’.

But documents published by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Emergencies (SAGE) suggest the extraordinary measures will need to be in place far longer to prevent the outbreak ‘overwhelming’ intensive care units.

They state: ‘It was agreed that a policy of alternating between periods of more and less strict social distancing measures could plausibly be effective at keeping the number of critical care cases within capacity.

Social distancing will need to be in place for most of the year to prevent the coronavirus pandemic overwhelming hospitals, the Government’s top scientists warned. Pictured: A commuter wears a face mask in London

‘These would need to be in place for at least most of a year. Under such a policy, at least half of the year would be spent under the stricter social distancing measures.

‘The triggers for measures to be enacted and lifted could be set at a level of UK nations and regions (for example London).’ 

The coronavirus death toll in the UK rose to 177 after another 33 patients died in 24 hours. There have been 3,983 confirmed cases, a rise of a quarter in a day.

The outbreak is already causing huge pressures in London and on Thursday night Northwick Park Hospital in north-west London declared a critical incident after running out of intensive care beds. What is very clear from the documents published by SAGE is the potentially catastrophic impact of this outbreak on the NHS, especially intensive care.

The more strict policies such as school closures, working from home and avoiding family and friends will have to be enforced for ‘at least half the year’, they predict. Pictured: London’s streets were nearly empty today 

Even the drastic social distancing measures and school closures announced by Mr Johnson this week could take up to three weeks before they lessen the burden on hospitals.

The committee of scientists predict: ‘There would be a two-three week delay between measures being put into place and their impact being felt in ICU (intensive care units).’

The documents also reveal that the scientists were very wary about closing schools because of the policy’s limited impact on delaying the spread of the epidemic and the possibility that grandparents – who are high risk – would end up looking after children.

They also highlight one potentially adverse consequence – that once the schools re-open, they could trigger a second wave of the outbreak.

The scientists predict the outbreak will peak in June or July with a smaller outbreak next winter.

The coronavirus death toll in the UK rose to 177 after another 33 patients died in 24 hours. Pictured: A man wearing a face mask walks the nearly-deserted streets of London

They looked back to data from the 2009 swine flu epidemic when ‘the school summer holiday interrupted transmission to such an extent that the UK epidemic was split into two waves, with the second coming after their reopening in the autumn’. They add: ‘We assumed that children have a role in transmission (for coronavirus) similar to that of influenza.’

The scientists also say that if police are off sick because of the outbreak it could trigger a wave of ‘opportunistic’ crime – such as muggings, shoplifting and vehicle theft – ‘by those who are already antagonistic towards the police’.

But overall they say ‘large scale rioting’ and crime is ‘unlikely’, unless the Government is deemed incompetent by the public or police numbers fall dramatically.

The scientists were also wary about causing ‘tension’ among the public by banning large mass gatherings – such as football matches and pop concerts – but not smaller events, such as tennis matches and theatre shows.

In fact, they were more concerned about the virus being spread in smaller gatherings than larger ones. ‘Smaller gatherings such as bars and nightclubs are higher risk as you can be in closer contact with others,’ they state.

‘Family gatherings are particularly high-risk as they bring people into closer contact.

‘Similarly, religious services with a high level of physical contact would be higher risk.’ 

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