Covid expert does not think 'firebreak' measures will be needed

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA - Credit: UEA

A Norwich infectious disease expert says he does not believe the country will enter a "firebreak" lockdown in autumn. 

It comes as the i newspaper reported a senior government scientist from SAGE comments the government plans for an October "firebreak" Covid lockdown have been drawn up in the event hospitalisations continue at their current level. 

The "firebreak" is rumoured to be a contingency plan for the government, with the i paper reporting this could involve the return to social distancing, limits on gathering, and closures of non-essential shops.

Downing Street denied the reports around October half term, but the government said there are "contingency plans" for a "range of scenarios".

Virologist, Paul Hunter, said Covid-19 was becoming an endemic disease. 

Prof Hunter said: “I do not think one will be needed in October.  

“The reason I do not think we will need one is I do not think we will be in the same position. I cannot see cases or hospitalisations going more than the levels we had last year."

Most Read

A "firebreak" is a short lockdown, of around two weeks, and was implemented by the Welsh government last October. 

Prof Hunter said; “I wasn’t a fan of firebreaks even last year.  

“I do not think it will be needed at all. I do not think it will achieve much.  

“It is like closing a fire door for an hour then opening it while the building is still burning down. With a firebreak in an epidemic, you might have a delay. Sometimes a small delay might achieve something.

"As it goes towards an endemic infection, such short term measures do not achieve much at all."

Last October, 190 people were admitted for Covid in Norfolk. This included 92 at the James Paget University Hospital, 34 at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, 20 at the Queen Elizabeth and 44 in other health organisations.

David Powles writes about his weekend at the N&N.

David Powles writes about his weekend at the N&N. - Credit: Nick Butcher

In August, 231 people were hospitalised across Norfolk, of which 101 were at the NNUH. 

The trust continues to treat around 20 Covid-positive patients as of Tuesday. 

In a reader's poll, 66pc of people said they would not support an October firebreak lockdown.

Prof Hunter said; “Commenters still talk about Covid in the UK as an epidemic, that was the case even up to a couple of months ago but it is changing.  

“The way I see it we are not going to see as big as surge as some people are talking about at the moment." 

He added "winter will be difficult" as the country will likely contend with a flu pandemic in the next two winters.

The UEA professor said he did not believe schools returning would have as big an impact on rising cases, after having a large impact during the first wave in the spring. 

Business leaders in Norwich and Great Yarmouth agreed that a return to restrictions would be a set back for industries that have been trying to build up again from previous lockdowns.

Jonathan Newman at the launch of the new Yarmouth Market place ShopAppy scheme. The app enables cust

Jonathan Newman, Great Yarmouth Town Centre and BID manager, Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Jonathan Newman, Great Yarmouth Town Centre and BID manager, said; "It has to be a last resort. If we did see that spike particularly the hospitalisations and the NHS coming under pressure, I would imagine most people would go with it but it would be very hard to swallow.

"It would be a setback for businesses. You do not reopen after a lockdown and pick up where you left off, there's a lot of building up to be done."

Nadhim Zahawi, the Covid Vaccine Deployment Minister, said he "hasn't seen any plans" for another lockdown, despite reports that it could be introduced if coronavirus cases continue to rise in the autumn.

A Number 10 spokesman said; "We have retained contingency plans as part of responsible planning for a range of scenarios, but these kind of measures would only be reintroduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on our NHS.

"I think we've been clear throughout that we will take action, and indeed we have done when necessary to protect our NHS.

"But under the previous occasions when that action has been required, we have been without the significant defences that our vaccination programme provides us - we're now in a much different phase."