Coronavirus measures do not go 'anywhere near far enough', top government scientist warns

Credit: ITV News

The latest coronavirus measures announced by the prime minister and the first ministers of the devolved nations have not "gone anywhere near far enough", one of the country's leading scientists has warned.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), described some of the new rules as "trivial" and said they would only make "a small impact" on the incoming second wave of Covid-19.

Boris Johnson set out the latest restrictions in England in an address to the nation on Tuesday night, in a bid to curb the surging number of cases in the country.

Watch Boris Johnson's address to the nation in full:

Speaking in a personal capacity to BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, Prof Edmunds welcomed that the government had “done something” but was critical of lammed the 10pm curfew on bars and restaurants which will come in to force across the UK.

"I think that the measures in terms of closing bars an hour early and restaurants at 10pm - I mean, nobody goes to a restaurant after 10 anyway," he said.

"I think that’s fairly trivial in terms of it’ll have a small impact on the epidemic.

"Overall, I don’t think that the measures have gone anywhere near far enough.

"In fact, I don’t even think the measures in Scotland have gone far enough."

On top of adopting the latest measures outlined by Mr Johnson, Scots have also been told that gatherings between households are banned as of Wednesday, a rule which came in to force in Northern Ireland on Monday.

Nicola Sturgeon announces new rules to curb Covid-19 cases in Scotland:

Prof Edmunds continued: "Each one of those individual measures, if you break it up, is going to have quite a small effect, actually, on the overall reproduction number, which is probably somewhere round about two at the moment.

"And so in order to stop the epidemic from growing any further, we have to put a large range of measures in place."

The dean of the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine supported the latest instruction for employees to avoid going into the workplace if possible, he said: "I think working from home if you can is certainly a good idea."

His comments come just weeks after the expert told ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston that coronavirus cases were "increasing exponentially" in the UK.

In an exclusive interview, Prof Edmunds warned that although social distancing had been widely adopted, the country had not yet "hit the sweet spot" that allows more normal economic activity and simultaneous control of the spread of the virus. 

Speaking on September 7, the scientist predicted not just more local lockdowns but also of renewed national curbs on our freedoms, as has now been announced.

The epidemiologist also admitted to ITV News that Sage should have been bolder in the guidance it gave to ministers when advising the government on how to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Just two weeks later, Prof Edmunds has repeated those warnings.

He told the Today programme: "I suspect we will see very stringent measures coming in place throughout the UK at some point, but it will be too late again.

"We will have let the epidemic double and double and double again until we do take those measures."

The scientists said the country is currently heading for "the worst of both worlds" by having to return to full lockdown, as seen in March.

"We didn’t react quick enough in March," he said.

The latest measures will restrict pub and restaurant opening times. Credit: PA

"And so I think that we haven’t learned from our mistake back then and we’re unfortunately about to repeat it".

Asked if there was a realistic chance the R could be brought under one by Christmas, he said: "I suspect not. There’s a chance, of course there’s a chance."

Prof Edmunds' bleak prediction echoes the suggestion of the foreign secretary who on Wednesday warned that the UK could be put into another full lockdown before Christmas if new restrictions are not followed.

Dominic Raab said Britain could "get through" winter without a return to a national lockdown if "everyone plays by the rules", but warned "more intrusive" measures could soon be implemented if Covid-19 infections continue to surge.