Number 10 was blown up today for science failure after bomb reports showed ministers avoided a number of recommendations from their expert advisers before unveiling the latest lockdown measures.
The Government's Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) made two dozen proposals for navigating the country through a second wave of the pandemic in September – many of which fell on deaf ears.
At the top of the list was a national "breaker" which the country would have reverted to a spring-level lockdown for about a month to bring the outbreak under control. But it was overridden by Boris Johnson for fear it could "destroy" the already wounded economy.
Ministers also ignored warnings that the hated 10pm curfew would have "marginal effects" and continued the program anyway, angering hospitality chiefs, local councils and even their own backers.
SAGE warned that the government-pressed test and trace system "currently has only a minor impact on broadcasts". They said the program will "continue to decline" if it does not grow at the rate of the epidemic. Number 10 has repeatedly rolled out ministers to defend the lagging £ 12 billion program that still does not find four in ten people suspected of having the disease.
The three files, released late at night, also indicated that gym and recreational center closures were likely to have "low to moderate" effects on the spread of Covid-19 and could endanger people's mental and physical health. However, the Prime Minister announced yesterday that they would be closed in the highest level restricted areas with the highest infection rate, putting thousands of jobs at risk.
The group warned in the September newspapers that hospital admissions for Covid-19 by the end of October, when 3,000 a day were admitted, could reach levels seen in the darkest days of the crisis by the end of October if no measures are put in place to tighten the lockdown would. At the time the files were released, the spread of the virus was doubling every two weeks.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the revelations in the newspaper were "alarming". He added: “The fact that the Prime Minister decided to make it public an hour after his press conference is further evidence that he is treating the British people with contempt.
& # 39; Labor earlier warned that the restrictions announced by the Prime Minister may not be enough. The government now urgently needs to explain why it has ignored its own scientists and what it will do to take control of the virus. & # 39;
SAGE told the government on Sept. 21 that a full three-week shutdown could reset the virus' trajectory, bring the "R" reproductive rate below the dreaded level of one, and give the country room to breathe through the winter.
The experts said the same day that the effect of alcohol on the behavior and tendency of bar-goers to scream meant that bars were likely breeding grounds for the virus. They advocated the idea of closing them completely, which they thought would lower the R by 0.1 and 0.2. However, they warned that a curfew would have "marginal effects".
However, as a sign of the growing divide between the government and its academics, Mr Johnson used a press conference on Downing Street just a day later to institute the controversial curfew. It's just one example of ministers ignoring "science".
The files released today showed that government scientists also told the government:
- Test and Trace has only "marginal effects" in containing the epidemic and if not updated quickly, it will "continue to decline" in the future.
- Ordering everyone who is ale to work from home can reduce the R by 0.2-0.4.
- Closing gyms has "minor to moderate" effects on the spread of Covid-19 and can "limit access to exercise for physical and mental health."
- Mandatory masks in offices and schools would help contain the spread of the virus, especially if social distancing is more difficult. There is some evidence that face covering reduces virus exposure and makes symptoms less severe.
- Closing universities and moving all students to online-only courses would lower the R-rate by as much as 0.5 with very few drawbacks.
- Encouraging high-risk people to stay in their homes would have "little impact" on the spread of the virus but "moderate impact" on the number of deaths and hospital stays.
- Restricting people traveling more than 5 miles from their homes could have "moderate" benefits, although communicating and enforcing the policy is "likely very complicated".
A shortlist of options was presented in the bombshell minutes of a SAGE meeting, including a national breaker lockout that prohibits all indoor contact and closes bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms and hairdressers
The experts said the same day that the effect of alcohol on the behavior and tendency of bar-goers to scream meant bars were likely breeding grounds for the virus. They advocated the idea of closing them completely, which they thought would lower the R by 0.1 and 0.2. However, they warned that a curfew would only have a "marginal impact".
SAGE warned that the government-pressed test and trace system "currently has only a minor impact on broadcasts". They warned that if the program does not grow with the pace of the epidemic, it will "continue to decline". Number 10 has repeatedly rolled out ministers to defend the lagging £ 12 billion program that still does not find four in ten people suspected of having the disease
Chris Whitty (left), Chief Medical Officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Adviser, led the government through the pandemic
Millions of people are covered by the two higher levels of risk in the new system of government, while the rest of England is subject to bars and restaurants curfew after the 6pm and 10pm curfew
Wise experts say Test and Trace has a "marginal" impact on fighting the virus. Criticism, expressed in a summary of a September 21 review review, will put pressure on Baroness Harding (pictured outside the Department of Health last month), the Conservative peer in charge of Test and Trace
10 p.m. The curfew in the pub does not work
Hitting curfews in pubs has little effect on Covid-19, government advisors warned last month.
In the September 21 documents, experts endorsed the idea of completely closing pubs and restaurants, which they believe would lower the R by 0.1 and 0.2.
The R – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infected – is taken at 1.1 and 1.4 at the national level. It's important to keep the value below 1 to make sure the epidemic subsides.
They said the effect of alcohol on behavior and the tendency of pub goers to scream meant that bars were likely breeding grounds for the virus.
However, SAGE warned that a curfew would not go far enough and would only have a "marginal impact".
Ministers ignored the advice and went into full swing with the 10 p.m. curfew the next day.
In the document, SAGE wrote that the environmental risk in bars, pubs, etc. is likely to be higher than in many other indoor spaces due to the proximity of people, lengthy exposure times, customers not wearing face covers and speaking loudly that is possible generate more aerosols. & # 39;
They added, “Some venues are poorly ventilated, especially in winter. Alcohol consumption affects behavior. "
Test and Trace has a "marginal" impact on fighting the virus
Sage experts say Test and Trace has a "marginal" impact on fighting the virus because the system does not test or track enough people.
The £ 12 billion program will "keep falling" unless it grows at the same rate as the epidemic, the scientific advisory group warned in documents released Monday.
Boris Johnson has promised that the program will be "globally successful" while experts and politicians see it as an important way to reduce the severity of the restrictions imposed during the crisis.
"The relatively low level of commitment to the system … coupled with test delays and likely poor self-isolating stickiness rates suggest that this system has little impact on broadcasts right now," they write.
"Unless the system grows at the rate of the epidemic and people are supported so they can stick to self-isolation, the effects of Test, Trace and Isolate are likely to continue to decrease in the future."
Criticism, voiced in a summary of a review of action on September 21, will put pressure on Baroness Harding, the Conservative Peer in charge of Test and Trace.
Jonathan Ashworth, Secretary of Health for Shadow, said: “This is further evidence that government incompetence is hindering our response to a second wave.
'Sage has essentially confirmed that Test and Trace are not working adequately as we've been warning for months. Ministers need to get the tests under control so we can take control of the virus. & # 39;
The program's success only appears to have deteriorated since the Sage document was written. Last week's numbers showed NHS Test And Trace in England had its worst week for the percentage of contacts it successfully traced.
Only 68.6 percent of the close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 were reached in the week ended September 30, the lowest weekly percentage since the program began.
Working from home can reduce the R-rate by 0.4
Ordering everyone who can work from home could reduce the reproduction rate by as much as 0.4, according to SAGE.
Experts said their modeling found that working from home "would have a significant impact on transmission," lowering the R by 0.2-0.4.
However, they warned that social isolation could affect the mental wellbeing of many Britons and that victims of domestic violence could face even more abuse.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam presented the government's latest assessment of the COVID situation using diagrams at a briefing today
How England is collapsing in new levels of COVID
ANIMAL THREE – VERY HIGH RISK
Liverpool City Region
Liverpool, Knowsley, Wirral, St. Helens, Sefton, Halton
TIER TWO – HIGH RISK
Cheshire West and Chester, Cheshire East
Manchester, Bolton, buried, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan, Salford, Rochdale, Oldham,
High Peak – the wards of Tintwistle, Padfield, Dinting, St. Johns – Old Glossop, Whitfield, Simmondley, Gamesley, Howard Town, Hadfield South, Hadfield North
Lancashire, Blackpool, Preston, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley
Leeds, Bradford, Kirklees, Calderdale, South Wakefield
Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster, Sheffield
Newcastle, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland, Durham, Northumberland
Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees, Darlington, Hartlepool
Birmingham, Sandwell, Solihull, Wolverhampton, Walsall
Leicester, Oadby and Wigston
Nottinghamshire, Nottingham City
TIER ONE – MEDIUM RISK
Rest of england
However, Boris was strongly against the measure as it will have a negative impact on the economy lives off workers who buy coffee, sandwiches and public transport fares five days a week.
The advice was issued by SAGE on September 21st. At this point, Mr. Johnson continued to encourage staff to return to their offices.
The next day he finally turned around and urged people to work from home if they can, causing widespread confusion.
SAGE wrote in the newspaper: “Usually more than a third of the contacts are made at work, often of long duration and strongly grouped. The modeling suggests that homework would have a significant impact on the transfer.
& # 39; R reduction of 0.2-0.4 when everyone who can work from home does so. PHE reports suggest that jobs play a role in transmission. The risk of transmission in the workplace is highly dependent on the particular environment, activities and behavior of workers. "
Closing gyms has little effect on the spread of Covid-19
Ministers were told that closing gyms and leisure centers would hardly reduce coronavirus infections – even though the government announced the measure last night.
The number 10 scientists warned that closing gyms could be a major detriment to the country's mental and physical health.
SAGE wrote in the document last month, saying the rule has the "potential reduction in R of up to 0.1, although an accurate estimate is very difficult".
However, they cautioned against "restricting access to exercise for physical and mental health, but having high potential for outdoor physical activity substitution, although this might be more difficult in the winter months".
& # 39; Risk of increasing mental health problems from gym closures. Potentially increasing health inequalities for some BAME groups who do not engage in outdoor physical activity for safety reasons and for areas with no gardens or suitable outdoor space for physical activity, ”they added.
The revelation, which warned SAGE about gym closing, came in the document released an hour after the reveal of "Tier Three" cities in England whose leisure centers would be forced to close.
Liverpool is the only area in the top tier of lockdown measures and the city goes beyond basic restrictions by closing leisure centers, gyms, betting shops and casinos.
Mandatory masks in offices and schools can reduce transmission
Forcing people to wear masks all the time in offices and schools will likely contain the spread of the coronavirus, but to what extent is still a mystery.
Expanding the mandatory wearing of face masks to more indoor spaces has been hotly debated since the virus began to re-emerge in late August.
The British Medical Association has repeatedly asked Ministers to reflect on what they believe could provide an important additional layer of protection.
Chris Whitty warns that "simple" third tier curbs will not be enough
Chris Whitty risked undermining the Prime Minister's carefully calibrated message on the lockdown tonight by suggesting that "basic tier three restrictions" are not enough to control the virus.
The Chief Medical Officer urged local leaders to use the "flexibility" of the rules to tighten restrictions.
Pointing to a turmoil within the scientific community over the chances of the action, Prof. Whitty said at a press conference # 10: “I am very confident that the measures currently in place will help slow the virus, and these measures will help help to slow it down further.
“I am not confident, and neither is anyone confident, that if we were to do the absolute base case and nothing more, the tier three suggestions for the highest rates would be enough to get over it.
“Because of this, at the third level, there is a lot of flexibility for the local authorities, led by their public health directors, to expand this area so that they can go well beyond the absolute base.
& # 39; The base will not be enough. I think that is clearly the professional point of view … but there are additional things that can be done within this guide. & # 39;
Prof. Whitty last month defended apocalyptic warnings from himself and senior scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance, suggesting that the daily cases could now reach 50,000.
"If we hadn't done all the things everyone is doing right now, if there wasn't a real attempt in every company to be Covid-safe and limit the amount of transmission, if people hadn't seen fewer people at the rates we are Seeing in these graphs would be much higher in my opinion, ”he said.
"What we can see is that we have to go further or these rates will continue to rise inexorably."
While SAGE admitted the evidence is inconclusive, its members said it might be possible "useful when distancing is more difficult or when ventilation is poor".
Some scientists have claimed that wearing a mask for long periods of time leads to a build-up of germs – including Covid-19 – on face covering, which increases the likelihood of the wearer getting sick.
However, SAGE said the "reduction in risk from source control is likely to outweigh the risk of transmission from dirty face coverings when worn for long periods of time."
It added, “Healthcare evidence suggests that universal masking has helped bring hospital outbreaks under control. Some suggestions that covering your face might decrease virus exposure and make symptoms less severe. & # 39;
Closing universities and moving all students to online courses would pull the R down
Moving all university and college students to online-only courses would lower the transfer rate, according to SAGE.
Data shows that Covid-19 infection rates at universities in hotspots like Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham are up to seven times higher than in surrounding cities.
The government experts said the reproduction rate could be reduced by as much as 0.5 if all universities and colleges were to close.
In the newspaper, they wrote: "Outbreaks are very likely in universities, given their size and the degree of close contact that is typical of living conditions and socializing, as well as during lectures and internships."
They recommended that students be sent home as they would run the risk of throwing house parties or meeting friends if they were housed in their accommodation.
Higher education will remain open throughout the winter, Boris reassured the public, even in places with third-level locks.
Young people remain largely untouched by Covid-19, and the continued shutdown of education in the spring has been heavily criticized.
Vulnerable to stay in their homes would have minimal impact on the epidemic
Cocooning the elderly and vulnerable in winter will not reduce the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK contrary to popular belief.
However, according to SAGE, this would have a significant impact on death rates and ICU admissions.
The scientists didn't provide an explanation as to why shielding the people at risk wouldn't help lower the R-rate.
However, it is believed that elderly and already sick people are so seriously ill that they are hospitalized quickly and cannot pass the disease on to many others.
For the same reason, asking to protect these people would likely help protect hospitals by reducing the number of admissions.
The strategy would allow young and healthy Britons to continue enjoying freedoms like going to restaurants and pubs – which would also prop up the weak economy.
However, politicians were reluctant to opt for the strategy as it would be ethically questionable. Nicola Sturgeon, for example, has resolutely rejected the strategy, calling it "impractical and unethical".
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