Health

Coronavirus: Scientific adviser to the Government says there is no more risk at work than at home


The row over Britain’s coronavirus lockdown intensified last night after a Government scientific adviser said the country ‘cannot hide away forever’ from the disease.

Rupert Shute, the deputy scientific adviser at the Home Office, predicted that 80 per cent of people would get the disease anyway.

Speaking to passport officials in an attempt to urge them to return to work, Mr Shute said that while staying home was important, ‘we also have to keep functioning our lives’.

His comments will feed into the row over whether Britain has followed a ‘herd immunity’ strategy and over how long the lockdown should last.

If 80 per cent of the population did catch the virus it would mean thousands more deaths in Britain. Officials estimate that around five per cent of the population (3.3million) have caught COVID-19 already, which has led to 7,978 deaths.

That is a death rate of 0.2 per cent – if the same proportion of 52.8m people (80 per cent of the population) died it could equal 105,600 deaths. Official estimates, however, are considerably lower and aim to keep fatalities below 20,000.

The World Trade Organisation has warned of the potential of a deep economic recession caused by the clampdown, and some MPs are already calling for the restrictions to be eased.

Britain on lockdown: A police officer asks a couple not to sit on a bench in The Royal Pump Room Gardens in Leamington Spa

Britain on lockdown: A police officer asks a couple not to sit on a bench in The Royal Pump Room Gardens in Leamington Spa

But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for the incapacitated Prime Minister, effectively confirmed last night that lockdown measures will be rolled over next week, saying it was ‘too early’ to lift them. But he said scientists and ministers hoped to have enough evidence by the end of next week to start assessing how long they will need to last.

Up to 2,000 workers at the Passport Office are being asked to go back into work. The Home Office said it was adhering to Public Health England’s guidance and maintaining social distancing at passport offices.

Mr Shute made the comments during a conference call with Passport Office staff. He said: ‘You are no more at risk at the workplace as you would be in your home or at the supermarket. It is about minimising it. We are working on the assessment that 80 per cent of us, if we haven’t already, will get the virus. We cannot hide away from it forever.’

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Mr Shute’s comments appear to echo previous Government briefings that up to 80 per cent of people will eventually contract coronavirus. But yesterday the PM’s official spokesman appeared to dismiss Mr Shute’s view when they said: ‘The Government’s view is on stopping the spread of the disease to save lives.’

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson while he is treated for the coronavirus, has said it is 'too early' to begin lifting lockdown measures

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson while he is treated for the coronavirus, has said it is ‘too early’ to begin lifting lockdown measures

Police Officers enforce the lockdown measures at Central London's Trafalgar Square, asking people to leave the square and abide by the social distancing measures

Police Officers enforce the lockdown measures at Central London’s Trafalgar Square, asking people to leave the square and abide by the social distancing measures

Thursday again saw people join the weekly applause to show thanks to the NHS staff who continue to work in hospitals to treat people who are suffering from the coronavirus

Thursday again saw people join the weekly applause to show thanks to the NHS staff who continue to work in hospitals to treat people who are suffering from the coronavirus

HOW DOES CORONAVIRUS HIDE IN THE BODY?  

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has a large number of spikes sticking out of its surface which it uses to attach to and enter cells in the human body. 

These spikes are coated in sugars, known as glycans, which disguise their viral proteins and help them evade the body’s immune system.

‘By coating themselves in sugars, viruses are like a wolf in sheep’s clothing,’ explained Professor Crispin.

The coronavirus has a relatively low level of sugar shielding.

The lower glycan density means there are fewer obstacles for the immune system to neutralise the virus with antibodies.  

The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents passport workers, said members should work from home unless undertaking critical work. 

Mark Serwotka, the union’s general secretary, said: ‘The union is clear that members should be working from home unless they are undertaking critical work. Processing routine passport applications is in no way critical work.

‘What Rupert Shute has told staff, suggesting going to work “as normal is not putting you in harm’s way, any more so than staying at home” and that 80 per cent of people will contract Covid-19, is a return to the discredited herd immunity strategy which the government rejects.

‘We believe the position must be everyone should be at home unless it is critical work. The Passport Office announcement flies in the face of that and is business-driven with scant regard for our members’ safety. The Passport Office must reverse its decision and we hope common sense prevails.’

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Yesterday Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded the government be more open and publish its full plan for leaving the virus lockdown.

Patel dismisses police calls for tougher lockdown curbs 

Priti Patel has batted off calls from police chiefs for laws to ban Britons from driving long distances and flouting the rule to exercise more than once a day.

Officers in Windermere, Cumbria, are already sending people in camper vans home, while locals in St Ives, Cornwall, blocked some roads to protect vulnerable residents.

Police have also created online forms for people to report potential breaches of the lockdown which was imposed on March 23 to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

At least five chief constables are said to be backing more stringent restrictions and clearer rules – including legislation to enforce the order to limit exercise to a one-hour period outdoors after some people flouted it to sunbathe in parks or beaches.

Northamptonshire Police said the ‘three-week grace period is over’ and suggested they may even start searching shopping trolleys, but how this would work is unclear. 

However, Ms Patel said in a radio interview this evening that the government is ‘absolutely not’ proposing to ramp up the lockdown measures. 

Currently, police can fine people or simply tell them to move. The emergency Coronavirus Act gives ministers sweeping powers to impose restrictions on ‘events and gatherings’, which it appears could be deployed to cover unnecessary travel.

According to the legislation this can cover ‘any vehicle, train, vessel or aircraft’, as well as ‘any tent or moveable structure’. The Health Secretary can issue a ‘direction’ prohibiting events of a ‘specified description’ to stop the transmission of the virus.

However, the law does not include any provision that could force people to have prior permission, show paperwork, or have reasonable cause to leave the house.

He said: ‘I’m not calling for precise timings, but the strategy. This is incredibly difficult on people and we need to know that plans are in place, and what they are.’ 

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Yesterday the devolved governments in both Scotland and Wales made it clear that there was no prospect of any relaxing of the lockdown next week.

But Mr Raab said it was still ‘too early’ to say anything about any lifting of the restrictions.

‘It’s been almost three weeks and we’re starting to see the impact of the sacrifices we’ve all made,’ he said.

‘But the deaths are still rising and we haven’t yet reached the peak of the virus. So it’s still too early to lift the measures that we put in place. We must stick to the plan and we must continue to be guided by the science.’

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said it is important to continue with the measures in place.

He said: ‘The measures that everybody has taken, the difficult things that we’ve all had to do, are making a difference, they’re making a big difference.

‘We know that the social distancing is working and we know that people are doing what they’re supposed to do and we need to keep doing that.’

But former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said he believed the lockdown should be ended soon for the sake of the economy.

‘We’ve got to get on top of this, but at some point we have got to balance the need to getting this down to the need to get people back to work,’ he said.

‘When these needs cross, we will have to start bringing people back to work.’

Cancer specialist Professor Karol Sikora said he believed the lockdown could be ended by the start of May.

He tweeted: ‘The lockdown is working – we are flattening the curve. But we need to see an exit strategy. With more testing, no mutation of the virus and compliance with the rules I think this is a feasible timetable.’

A spokesman for Number 10 said departments were doing extensive work on an exit strategy – but declined to give any details.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said it is important to continue with the measures in place.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said it is important to continue with the measures in place.



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