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Boris Johnson's COVID-19 rules won’t stop pandemic spreading by Christmas, top scientists warn

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·4-min read
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves at the media as he leaves 10 Downing Street, in London, to go to the Houses of Parliament to make a statement on new coronavirus restrictions Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Johnson plans to announce new restrictions on social interactions Tuesday as the government tries to slow the spread of COVID-19 before it spirals out of control. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Boris Johnson waves at the media as he prepares to make a statement on new coronavirus restrictions. (AP)

After Boris Johnson announced new measures aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, a number of leading scientists have warned they don’t go far enough.

On Tuesday the prime minister set out rules including encouraging office staff to work from home, pubs closing at 10pm and wedding attendance being cut from 30 to 15.

In a televised address to the nation, Johnson said the measures were necessary as “there have been too many breaches, too many opportunities, for our invisible enemy to slip through undetected”.

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, said that while the new rules will have “some impact on the transmissibility of COVID-19”, it was nevertheless “doubtful” that they would bring down the R value below 1 before Christmas.

Watch: Boris Johnson addresses the nation

He added: “The PM is correct in stating that we are unlikely to see much relaxation for six months, i.e. by March/April.

“A complete lockdown would almost certainly have a big impact but that would involve closing schools and most commentators agree that that would be an unacceptable additional blow to our children’s education as well as to the economy.”

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the government's Sage committee, also warned on Wednesday that a much tougher COVID-19 crackdown was needed.

Members of the public are seen by public information messages in central Manchester after Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out new restrictions to last "perhaps six months" to slow the renewed spread of coronavirus, Manchester, England, Tuesday Sept 22, 2020. The UK has reached "a perilous turning point", Boris Johnson said as he set out a raft of new coronavirus restrictions for England. ( AP Photo/Jon Super)
Public information messages in central Manchester after Boris Johnson set out new restrictions to slow the renewed spread of coronavirus. (AP)

Edmunds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have to put stringent measures in... as fast as possible.

“We will at some point, but by then it will be too late again.

Read more: Four things we must all do to fight winter coronavirus spike

“We didn’t act quick enough in March. We haven’t learned from our mistake back then. Unfortunately we’re about to repeat it.”

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said the 10pm curfew “will likely have little or no impact”.

Suggesting a stricter approach, Head added: “A far better approach would be to shut all pubs and restaurants, and properly compensate businesses and employees for the loss of income.”

Watch: How to remove a face covering correctly

The warnings come as the British Medical Association (BMA) said that while it was “encouraging” that the government is facing up to the accelerating transmission rate, more still needs to be done.

It criticised ministers for previously hurrying staff back to offices as infection rates were rising and for failing to make it mandatory for retail and hospitality staff to wear face coverings.

Chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “The BMA has consistently argued that it was illogical for staff not to be required to wear face masks in shops, pubs and restaurants as customers are, so we’re pleased to see this belatedly coming into force.

“However, given that the infection is equally like to spread in all indoor settings, these rules should also apply to offices and other workplaces.”

Customers at the Westminster Arms pub in London watch Prime Minister Boris Johnson address the nation regarding new coronavirus restrictions, including office staff working from home, the wider use of face masks and a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants.
Customers at the Westminster Arms pub in London watch Boris Johnson address the nation regarding new coronavirus restrictions. (PA)

Nagpaul called on the government to do more to help employers make workplaces COVID-secure when home-working is not possible, and to cut the number of people permitted to meet indoors.

“The prime minister missed an opportunity today to revise the ‘rule of six’ which, as currently interpreted, allows members of six different households to meet indoors whereas previously members of only two households could do so,” he said.

Read more: Scotland bans households from visiting each other, in stark contrast to England

“Data suggests that transmission between households is by far the biggest driver of infection and this should therefore be rectified at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Dr David Strain, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, went a step further, suggesting that different households should have a quarantine period in between visits.

Watch: What is the new ‘Rule of six’?

He said: “The rule of six requires strengthening (or ideally replacing) with a mandate that only a limited and nominated number of individuals can get together at all, and that movement between these groups should only have with a quarantine period in between.”

The new measures announced by the prime minister follow a surge in COVID-19 infections during September.

Johnson said he expected the measures to be in place for six months, including throughout the crucial winter period.

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