LONDON: People gather in Trafalgar Square on Saturday to protest against the lockdown imposed by the government, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease. Under laws to slow the spread of Covid-19, people in England are not allowed to gather in groups of more than six.—Reuters
LONDON: People gather in Trafalgar Square on Saturday to protest against the lockdown imposed by the government, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease. Under laws to slow the spread of Covid-19, people in England are not allowed to gather in groups of more than six.—Reuters

LONDON: Britain is likely to need to reintroduce some national coronavirus lockdown measures sooner rather than later, a leading epidemiologist and former senior government health advisor said on Saturday.

Neil Ferguson, a professor of epidemiology at London’s Imperial College, told the BBC the country was facing a “perfect storm” of rising infections as people return to work and school.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that he did not want another national lockdown but that new restrictions may be needed because the country was facing an “inevitable” second wave of Covid-19. “I think some additional measures are likely to be needed sooner rather than later,” Ferguson said.

Ministers were on Friday reported to be considering a second national lockdown after new Covid-19 cases almost doubled to 6,000 per day, hospital admissions rose and infection rates soared across parts of northern England and London.

“Right now we’re at about the levels of infection we were seeing in this country in late February, and if we leave it another two to four weeks we’ll be back at levels we were seeing more back in mid-March, and that’s going to — or could — cause deaths,” Ferguson said.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asked Johnson to meet her and the leaders of the devolved governments of Wales and Northern Ireland within the next 48 hours to try to ensure coordinated measures across different parts of the United Kingdom.

“We know from experience earlier in the year that speed and decisiveness of action is important in the fight against Covid,” she said. Britain has suffered Europe’s highest death toll from Covid-19, with more than 41,000 deaths on the government’s preferred measure.

Ferguson served on the government’s main scientific advisory board until May, when he stepped down after breaking lockdown rules himself.

He said future lockdown restrictions did not need to be as strict as those introduced in March to be effective in slowing the renewed spread of the disease.

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said that tighter lockdown measures were becoming “increasingly likely” for Britain’s capital.

Britain’s capacity to test for coronavirus infections has also come under strain since schools in England reopened this month, with many people reporting that tests were unavailable or only possible at locations hundreds of miles away.

“We have a perfect storm right now, of people — as they have been told to do — getting back to normal, schools reopening, a surge in cases,” Ferguson said.

In a related development, London’s police on Saturday tried to break up a protest by more than a thousand people opposed to lockdown measures aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus.

Demonstrators had gathered in Trafalgar Square in central London carrying banners, saying “Free- dom Not Fear” and “Scam” and chanting at police: “Choose your side”.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2020