Covid UK: SAGE adviser says 'Tier 5' may be needed to suppress virus

SAGE adviser says ‘Tier 5’ may be needed to suppress Covid as he suggests UK has struggled to keep cases down because it is a ‘western liberal democracy’

  • SAGE adviser Mark Walport said tighter curbs may be needed to suppress Covid
  • He suggested UK had struggled because it was a ‘western liberal democracy’
  • Sir Mark also said ‘mutant’ Covid was transmitting rapidly among young children 

A SAGE adviser today hinted a third national lockdown including mass school closures may be required to suppress Covid as he insisted ‘keeping people apart’ stops the virus from spreading. 

Professor Sir Mark Walport claimed the ‘mutant’ strain of coronavirus was transmitting rapidly among children, with those aged between 12 and 16 seven times more likely to ‘infect’ a household.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show as Liverpool’s leaders called for a blanket shutdown, he said it would be ‘very, very difficult’ to keep the disease under control ‘without tighter social distancing measures’.

Sir Mark also suggested the UK has struggled to keep cases down because it is a ‘western liberal democracy’, hinting that draconian countermeasures adopted in unfree countries like Vietnam had suppressed the virus.

Asked if Tier 4 restrictions were enough, the former Chief Scientific Adviser today said: ‘It’s the Tier 4 restrictions, it’s obeying them.

‘It is thinking about breaking essentially every possible route of transmission we possibly can. Those are the things that are absolutely necessary and it is pretty clear we’re going to need more.’

Talking about ‘mutant’ Covid, he said: ‘We now have a much more transmissible variant and I’m afraid this is the natural evolution of viruses.

‘The ones that can transmit most effectively have an advantage over other variants and so it is clear this variant is transmitting more readily. It’s transmitting more readily in younger age groups as well. 

‘It’s good to note it doesn’t appear to cause worse disease or that it is going to be more resistant to the effects of the vaccine, but it is going to be very, very difficult to keep it under control without tighter social distancing measures.’

Sir Mark continued: ‘The thing that actually stops the virus, and we know that it can do, is keeping people apart. The virus can only get from one person to another through proximity, and so it really is about doing everything we possibly can to keep ourselves as safe as possible.’  

It comes as Boris Johnson today refused to rule out a total shutdown, telling Marr he is ‘reconciled’ to imposing further restrictions on public life as the number of coronavirus cases rises.

In the latest twist and turn of the pandemic:  

  • Boris Johnson told parents to send children to schools in Tier 4 areas tomorrow, but hinted he would close schools if cases rise in those areas;  
  • Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman said children’s learning cannot be ‘furloughed’;
  • Headteachers called for this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams to be scrapped; 
  • Experts leading the UK vaccination programme defended the decision to extend the gap between the two doses, insisting it is ‘the way we save lives’;
  • Health bosses last night insisted urgent cancer operations in London will not be scrapped to ease the strain on hospitals inundated with Covid patients; 
  • Labour’s shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens is being treated in hospital for coronavirus, her aides announced last night;  
  • Another 57,725 had positive test results and recorded 445 deaths yesterday; 
  • A London children’s hospital consultant blasted ‘irresponsible’ nurse who gave a BBC interview claiming her hospital has a ‘whole ward of children’ with Covid;
  • Young non-voting women are most likely to turn down a Covid vaccine if it were available tomorrow, the Find Out Now poll has found; 
  • The PM faces losing most of the ‘Red Wall’ seats that delivered his historic election victory a year ago and his own seat, according to a massive poll.

SAGE adviser Sir Mark Walport today hinted a third national lockdown may be required to suppress Covid as he insisted ‘keeping people apart’ stops the virus from spreading

Two thirds of England’s population is now in Tier 4, with the remainder living in Tier 3 lockdowns. Only the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall, is in the looser Tier 2

Boris Johnson today refused to rule out a total shutdown, telling Marr he is ‘reconciled’ to imposing further restrictions on public life as the number of coronavirus cases rises 

Sir Mark also claimed that locking down earlier would have reduced cases and deaths, telling the Andrew Marr Show: ‘It’s absolutely clear we can see other countries, Vietnam for example, which has managed to keep its cases down. 

‘But we can see that western liberal democracies much harder. The UK is not alone in this, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any better.’

He also urged people who have had a coronavirus vaccine not to ‘go out and party’ as he admitted ‘there are lots of things we don’t know about the vaccines’.      

Sir Mark’s interview comes as the PM signalled that anti-Covid measures were likely to get tougher. 

Asked whether he could guarantee schools will open on January 18, Mr Johnson told Marr: ‘Well, obviously, we’re going to continue to assess the impact of the Tier 4 measures, the Tier 3 measures.’

On whether GCSE and A-Level exams should be cancelled, the PM said: ‘We’ve got to be realistic, we’ve got to be realistic about the pace of which this new variant has spread… we’ve got to be realistic about the impact that it’s having on our NHS… and we’ve got to be humble in the face of this virus.’

Mr Johnson indicated tougher restrictions may be introduced, saying: ‘It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country. I’m fully, fully reconciled to that.’

He added: ‘There are obviously a range of tougher measures that that we would have to consider… I’m not going to speculate now about what they would be, but I’m sure that all our viewers and our listeners will understand what the sort of things… clearly school closures, which we had to do in March is one of those things.’  

Mr Johnson said: ‘What we are doing now is using the tiering system, which is a very tough system… and, alas, probably about to get tougher to keep things under control. But, we will review it.’

He added: ‘And we have the prospect of vaccines coming down the track in their tens of millions. And that, I think, is something that should keep people going in what I predicted, back on your show in in October, will be a very bumpy period right now. It is bumpy and it’s going to be bumpy.’

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s council leaders today called for a third national lockdown to contain the new ‘mutant’ strain of Covid and prevent a ‘catastrophe’.

The city’s acting mayor, Wendy Simon, and the Labour-run city council’s cabinet say the speed of the rise in coronavirus cases have reached ‘alarming levels’ and urgent action is now required to save lives and the NHS .

The PM today signalled that anti-Covid measures were likely to get tougher. Asked whether he could guarantee schools will open on January 18, Mr Johnson told Marr: ‘Well, obviously, we’re going to continue to assess the impact of the Tier 4 measures, the Tier 3 measures’

Cases in Liverpool have almost trebled in the past two weeks to 350 per 100,000, despite the city successfully leading on the national pilot for community testing which led to it being the first city to be taken out of Tier 3 and into Tier 2, according to official figures

London is now the epicentre of the outbreak and its hospitals are being stretched with the flood of patients. The weekly rate of cases is double the national average at 858 per 100,000

The new ‘mutant’ strain of Covid is thought to have a higher rate of transmission and is most prevalent in London and the South East, where health bosses say hospitals have become stretched.

Headteachers call for GCSE and A-Level exams to be scrapped this summer amid school closure chaos 

Head teachers are calling on the Government to scrap this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams amid outrage over Gavin Williamson’s plans to keep schools open.

Most primaries in England are expected to re-open their doors tomorrow, while secondary schools will reopen on a staggered basis later this month with plans to test every student weekly.

Yesterday, however, the UK’s largest teaching union advised members it was not safe to return to the classroom – with several left-wing councils demanding their primary schools move to online teaching only.

And in another blow to the Education Secretary ‘s plans, UK head teachers are now calling for this year’s exams to be scrapped to prioritise ‘wider public health, pupil and staff safety’.

They also claim it would be unfair to force students to sit exams when those whose schools were open earlier would have more contact time than those with later start dates. 

The WorthLess? campaign group – a collection of 2,000 head teachers in 80 local authorities – said: ‘Wider public health, pupil and staff safety should be prioritised ahead of examinations.

‘Public safety should not be risked or driven by an inflexible pursuit of GCSE and A-levels.’

Head teacher of Tanbridge House School in Horsham – and one of the WorthLess? leaders – told The Times : ‘There is great scepticism that exams can now go ahead fairly.’

It is believed the strain is spreading from south to north, leading to increasing pressure on the NHS.

Cases in Liverpool have almost trebled in the past two weeks to 350 per 100,000, despite the city leading on the pilot for community testing which led to it being the first city to be moved from Tier 3 down to Tier 2.

The call for a new lockdown was made in a statement from Cllr Wendy Simon and Cabinet Member for Public Health Cllr Paul Brant.

The current mayor of the city, Joe Anderson, is on police bail on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation.

The statement said: ‘It is clear that the country is now at a crossroads with Covid-19. The stark reality is that today this virulent new strain of the virus is very much on the rise and we need to act now to prevent a crisis that will unleash even more pain and anguish.’

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the Government would ‘not hesitate to take actions necessary to protect local communities’.

England is edging closer towards a blanket shutdown after government efforts to reopen schools were thrown into disarray by Left-wing councils and teaching unions. 

Gavin Williamson confirmed on Friday that all London primary schools will remain shut to most pupils next week – rather than just those in certain boroughs as set out earlier in the week – but teaching unions say all schools should close for the next two weeks.

Last night, the Department for Education said remote learning was ‘a last resort’ and classrooms should reopen ‘wherever possible’ with appropriate safety measures to help mitigate the risk of transmission.

‘As we’ve said, we will move to remote education as a last resort, with involvement of public health officials, in areas where infection and pressures on the NHS are highest,’ the spokesperson said.

Hundreds of new vaccination sites are due to be up and running this week as the NHS ramps up its immunisation programme with the newly approved Oxford University and AstraZeneca jab. 

Some 530,000 doses of the vaccine will be available for rollout across the UK from Monday and more than a million patients have already had their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which was the first to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. 

But Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said children’s education cannot be ‘furloughed’ for months while vaccinations are rolled out and time absent from the classroom should be kept to an ‘absolute minimum’, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield told the newspaper that schools should be the last to close and first to open, when safe to do so, adding: ‘I hope, for children and parents’ sake, that is measured in days not weeks and I would be particularly keen for primaries to stay open if at all possible.’ 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the vaccine roll-out was ‘our great hope’, adding: ‘I want the Government to throw everything it can at this, harnessing the extraordinary talents of our NHS so we can be vaccinating at least two million Brits a week by the end of the month.’  

But, writing in the Sunday Mirror, he criticised ‘a chaotic last minute U-turn on schools’, adding: ‘Confusion reigns among parents, teachers and pupils over who will be back in school tomorrow and who won’t.’

General secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), Mary Bousted, said schools should stay closed for two weeks to ‘break the chain’ of transmission and prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed.’

The union, which represents the majority of teachers, has advised its members it is not safe to return to classrooms on Monday.

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said the union had started preliminary steps in legal proceedings against the Department for Education, asking it to share its scientific data about safety and transmission rates.

Unions have also called for the reopening of schools in Wales next week to be delayed with Laura Doel, director of school leaders’ union NAHT Cymru, saying ‘the latest data shows that in large parts of Wales, control of infection has been lost’.

From January 4, all London primary schools will be required to provide remote learning for two weeks to all children except vulnerable children and those of key workers, who will be allowed to attend.

Mr Williamson said the January 1 decision to expand closures to the nine remaining London boroughs and the City of London was a ‘last resort’.

Under the Government’s initial plan, secondary schools and colleges were set to be closed to most pupils for the first two weeks of January, while primary schools within 50 local authorities in the south of England, including 23 London boroughs, were also told to keep their doors shut until January 18.

Green Party-led Brighton and Hove City Council has advised primary schools in the Tier 4 area not to return in person, except for vulnerable children and those of key workers, until January 18 despite the Government’s plan for most schools to open in person. 

Linda Bauld, a professor in public health at the University of Edinburgh, said transmission among primary school pupils was ‘still very limited’ while secondary school pupils, particularly older teenagers, can pass on the virus in the same way as adults.

But health professionals have warned of growing pressure on services with Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, telling the BBC current case figures are ‘fairly mild’ compared to what is expected in a week’s time.

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