The UK has an “awful long way to go” before the coronavirus pandemic is brought to an end, a leading scientist has warned.
Professor John Edmunds, who attends meetings of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), urged caution in lifting lockdown restrictions, saying the disease will “come back very fast”.
His comments come as Boris Johnson is expected to update the Cabinet this week on the next steps in easing measures, expected from June 15.
Asked how he would respond to someone who thinks the coronavirus pandemic is over, Prof Edmunds told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “It’s definitely not all over, unfortunately. There’s an awful long way to go.
“And if we relax, then this epidemic will come back very fast. So I think we do need to be really cautious.”
He said lockdown had worked and levels of community transmission had “reduced enormously” but said cases are now concentrated in “the harder to control parts” like hospitals and care homes, causing the reproduction number to creep up.
Prof Edmunds was asked about a recent report which estimated the R value – the number of people an infected person passes the virus on to – to be 1.01 in the north-west and one in the south-west of England.
If the R number is lower than one, the outbreak is in decline but if it rises higher, the number of cases increases exponentially.
Prof Edmunds said despite the one report putting two areas above one, there are nine other statistical models that “aren’t quite so gloomy”.
“It does look like the overall reproduction number is going up, and going up a little bit, only very, very marginally and perhaps a little bit in other settings,” he added.
“It is creeping close to one in some places. I think we can’t rule that out. But it might be even at around one in some regions.
“But I would stress that overall the assessment is it probably is still below one, probably everywhere, you know, on average.”
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