Covid: Sage scientist fears England could repeat ‘mistakes of last summer’

A scientific adviser to the government’s Covid-19 response has expressed fears England could be in danger of repeating “the mistakes of last summer”.

Prof Stephen Reicher, from the University of St Andrews and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) subcommittee on behavioural science, said the government may have to reimpose restrictions if the reopening leads to a surge in infections.

He told Times Radio: “My fear is that we’re on line to repeat the mistakes of last summer – if you remember, the prime minister told us it was our patriotic duty to go to the pub, that people should go to work or they might lose their jobs, we had ‘eat out to help out’.

“The consequence was we never got infections low enough to be able to deal with the disease and so when conditions changed in the autumn, when schools went back and people went back to work and universities went back and the weather got worse and we went inside, so infections spiked.

“This time round, we should learn from that and we should get infections low to a point where we’re in a much better place in the autumn, where we don’t have to reimpose restrictions.

“So the real question is how can we do that without inconveniencing people too much?”

Many of the bars and restaurants that are reopening in July and August were forced to close when the UK entered a second national lockdown on 5 November after infections surged.

A sharp rise in cases in recent weeks has dented hopes that restrictions would be removed before the government’s 19 July “target date”.

Reicher added that test and trace was still not working properly or contacting people quickly enough, and pointed to the lack of support for people to self-isolate.

He said: “It seems to me that if we got right the basic public health moves to suppress infection, we wouldn’t be talking about a high reservoir of infection which can then spike very quickly when conditions change.”

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