Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the decision to impose the coronavirus lockdown in March, has warned workers they should “hesitate” at the “headlong rush to get everybody back into offices”.
The Imperial College epidemiologist told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The case number increases we’ve seen in the last two weeks do not yet account for the reopening of schools, so undoubtedly that may increase transmission still further and there may be a need therefore to reduce contacts in other settings.”
Ferguson said he was still working from home, and cautioned: “Certainly I think we should hesitate and maybe pause at the headlong rush to get everybody back into offices.
“But some people have to work and I completely understand the concerns in many quarters that everybody working at home has an economic impact, particularly on city centres.”
However, the professor said he is “encouraged” that the government is responding to the rise in coronavirus cases in Britain.
His comments come after Boris Johnson announced strict new rules – banning people from meeting in groups of more than six, ordering pubs and restaurants to collect contact details, and tightening quarantine.
The leading epidemiologist said: “One of the mistakes made early on in this crisis was being cautious in responding to the epidemic and that led to the UK being later than we would have liked in locking down, and therefore we saw the death toll this country did see.
“And I am encouraged that now we are responding in a more timely manner – we have a lot more data available to track the epidemic.”
Ferguson said “all the analysis” suggested there would be an “uptick in deaths in the coming weeks, so now is the time to respond”.
On Wednesday, coronavirus cases rose by more than 2,000 for fourth day in a row. The recent consistent rise in infections prompted the PM to hold a news conference at Downing Street to announce the new measures.
But Ferguson warned: “The measures just announced will take some weeks to have an effect, so we need to wait at this point and see how much it will flatten the curve.
“And then if that is not sufficient to bring the reproduction number below one, so the epidemic starts shrinking again, then yes, we may need to clamp down in other areas.”
The reproduction number refers to the ‘R rate’ – which represents the number of people each COVID-19 positive person goes on to infect.
The current R rate range for the UK remains as high as 1.1.
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