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UK risks 'sleepwalking into winter of discontent' over coronavirus, top scientist warns

George Martin
·2-min read
File photo dated 15/06/20 of customers wearing face masks as they shop inside Primark in Oxford Street, London. Face coverings could be made mandatory in shops in England, Boris Johnson has hinted, as he urged Britons to go back to work if they can.
Customers wearing face masks as they shop inside Primark in Oxford Street. (PA)

A top scientist has warned the government is faces walking into a “winter of discontent” if it fails to learn from initial mistakes in dealing with coronavirus.

Sir Paul Nurse, the director of the Francis Crick Institute, told the Commons health and social care select committee on Tuesday that “greater clarity” in decision making would be needed to avoid a second wave of deaths.

He told MPs: “I think that perhaps what we need to think about is do we have clear government in place?

“Do we have it both at the executive level, do we have it at the political level?

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 25:  Sir Paul Nurse, director of the new Francis Crick Institute at King's Cross on August 25, 2016 in London, England. The Francis Crick Institute will be the biggest biomedical research institute under one roof in Europe with around 1250 scientists and 250 other staff working there. The Cricks research aims to discover how and why disease develops and seeks to find new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent conditions such as cancer, heart disease and stroke, infections and neurodegenerative conditions like motor neurone disease. It is expected that the institute will be fully operational in early 2017.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Sir Paul Nurse, the director of the Francis Crick Institute, warned about the dangers of ineffective decision making on Tuesday. (Getty)

“And I think unless we get that straight, we may run the risk of sleepwalking into frankly a winter of discontent, if you have an issue with second peaks and so on.”

Figures published on Tuesday by the ONS show that 51,096 deaths involving COVID-19 had occurred in England and Wales up to 10 July, and had been registered by 18 July.

Giving evidence to the same committee on Tuesday, Wellcome Trust director Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar said June, July and August were a "crucial phase" to prevent a second wave of COVID-19.

He told the committee: "If we have any sense of complacency of 'this is behind us', then we will undoubtedly have a second wave, and we could easily be in the same situation again.

"The lockdowns have made an enormous difference to the community transmission – they've done nothing to change the fundamentals of the virus.

"It remains as infectious as at the end of December, it has the same clinical syndrome, it kills the same number of people.

"And as soon as the lockdowns ease, if we don't have mechanisms to change the fundamentals – that means diagnostics, testing, treatments and vaccines – then this will come back, and it'll come back in winter when all the other respiratory (diseases do)."

He added: "If we don't have things in place by the beginning of September when schools restart, we will face a very, very difficult winter."

Prof Farrar also said he believes the world will be living with coronavirus for "very many, many years to come".

"Things will not be done by Christmas. This infection is not going away, it's now a human endemic infection," he continued.

"Even, actually, if we have a vaccine or very good treatments, humanity will still be living with this virus for very many, many years to come.

"We need to keep the urgency in place in June, July and August, but we need to move now to a consistent long-term approach to this.

"Because humanity will be living with this infection for decades to come."

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