Government scientific advisers endorsed Boris Johnson‘s £100billion Operation Moonshot, which would see 10million people tested a day regardless of whether they have symptoms, in a paper submitted to Downing St last month.
Population-wide testing has the ability to slash Covid-19’s reproduction rate in half, the experts said. Britain’s overall R rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – is estimated to be as high as 1.5.
SAGE’s comments suggest the R could be shrunk to at least 0.75 with the measures – but this hinges on a ‘well-functioning test and trace system’ that catches at least 80 per cent of close contacts of infected patients within a day.
Keeping the R below 1 is critical in ensuring that cases are not rising. An R above 1 means the epidemic can spiral out of control.
At the moment, NHS Test and Trace – once hailed as ‘world beating’ by ministers – is still failing to find four in 10 suspected Covid-19 cases, and often doesn’t reach them for at least three days.
SAGE also criticised the beleaguered programme – named to suggest it is ran by the NHS but actually controlled by the Government – for not collecting robust enough data about where clusters of infections are occurring. This makes it difficult to decide which parts of society should be shut to avoid future outbreaks, the group said.
Writing in the paper, SAGE said: ‘It is the view of [SAGE] that more and better data from the current testing system is needed… until more information on what settings people are being infected with SARS-CoV-2 in is available, modellers are unable to offer more than generic high levels principles as already produced.’
The Government’s scientific advisers endorsed Boris Johnson’s £100billion Operation Moonshot, which would see 10million people tested a day regardless of whether they have symptoms, in a paper submitted to Number 10 last month (file)
The paper was released today as part of a dozen handed to Number 10 in recent months to guide ministers through the winter resurgence of the virus.
It’s the second time in a week the Government’s own experts have bashed the UK’s beleaguered contact tracing scheme.
On Tuesday, SAGE warned the system was having ‘marginal impact’ on reducing the prevalence of the disease and looks destined to get worse as the crisis grows.
Other SAGE files published today also revealed:
Unwanted local lockdowns will lead to less people following rules
Local lockdowns that are not seen as necessary risk fraying public confidence and adherence, SAGE warned the Government in August.
The Government’s experts said Covid-19 rules need to be ‘seen to be legitimate and proportionate’ in order for the public to follow the measures, which come at an economic and social cost.
SAGE said that if cases appear to be rising in an area and a local lockdown is needed, the severity of the measures need to be ‘balanced with the public’s response’.
It comes amid concerns that the Government is losing public confidence in its local lockdown system.
Unwanted local lockdowns will lead to less people following rules, SAGE warned amid concerns the Government’s latest three-tier restrictions are too confusing
Local politicians and ministers are at loggerheads over a potential tightening of restrictions in Greater Manchester.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said the city will ‘stand firm’ against being placed under the ‘very high’ Covid alert, which would see pubs and gyms shut once again and restaurants placed under even earlier curfews.
London has also been placed into the second-highest lockdown level, with bans on people mixing indoors with people they don’t live with.
SAGE warned in its August 6 document: ‘The virus will spread through those least concerned about it.
Therefore, boosting adherence of any measures in these harder-to-reach groups is vital, and, without successful outreach, additional measures may not have the desired impact’.
SAGE ruled out cocooning the elderly in July as it was destined ‘to fail’
The Government was told that mooted plans to divide the population by age should be abandoned because they are ‘likely to fail’.
Modelling by the group found there was too much social contact between different age groups.
This would make segregating the elderly extremely difficult to enforce, the academics warned.
SAGE ruled out cocooning the elderly in July as it was destined ‘to fail’ due to a series of logistical and ethical issues (file)
Approximately 65 per cent of people in the UK live in a household with at least one person aged 45 or over, which would make the scheme a logistical nightmare.
There would also be a number of ethical issues if certain age groups were told to stay at home while the rest of society went about normal life, SAGE said.
‘Policies to segment the population by age, relaxing restrictions for younger groups while restricting them for older groups, are likely to fail,’ they advised the Government.
‘The large amount of mixing across age groups would make it extremely difficult to prevent transmission between segmented age groups, regardless of the ethical and practical questions involved.
‘Further, any age segmentation policy will surely raise considerable social, ethical and practical issues not considered here, in addition to costs to wider wellbeing.’
All age groups have contact with people aged over 45, the models found, allowing opportunities for the virus to pass to the most vulnerable.
Reinfection from Covid-19 ‘is to be expected’
It’s likely that people can get reinfected with Covid-19, SAGE has admitted.
Experts on behalf of the Government analysed the case of a 33-year-old man in Hong Kong who appeared to catch the disease 20 weeks after beating it the first time.
The patient tested negative twice for the virus March after a short hospital stint and was discharged.
But he produced a positive sample during airport screening after returning from a holiday in Spain in August – despite being asymptomatic.
SAGE said it suggested that reinfection was likely after a short period of time, though it could not be certain.
The group wrote: ‘Based on knowledge of other coronaviruses, reinfection is to be expected, although at present the point at which an individual is likely to be susceptible to reinfection is not known.
‘In cases that have begun to be reported, the time to reinfection in an individual has been relatively short.’
It added: ‘Therefore, this may require public understanding that once they have had Covid-19 they can be reinfected, and should seek to be tested again if they present relevant symptoms.’
Scientists still do not know for sure whether people can catch the virus more than once or if they become immune after their first infection.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that a 25-year-old man in the US caught Covid for the second time, leading the University of Nevada’s Dr Mark Pandori to warn that there could be ‘significant implications for our understanding of Covid-19 immunity’.
It followed dozens of reports from around the world of people catching the virus twice.
But it’s worth noting that researchers globally admit that they are not entirely sure their patients are actually reinfected.
Instead, they say, there’s a chance the virus from first infections lay dormant and become reactivated inside the body.
Between 0.5 and 1 per cent of everyone that catches the virus will die
Papers from the SPI-M-O group – which feeds data into SAGE – dated May 11, warned of the death risk of Covid-19 was between 0.5 and 1 per cent.
This falls within the 0.6 per cent estimated by the WHO but is lower than Cambridge University’s suggestion of 1.4 per cent.
But the fatality rates varied massively by age groups. Three models by the SPI-M-O group found that the virus fatality rate did not rise above 0.1 per cent for all age groups under 40.
However, it surged to up to 2.3 per cent for those aged 60 to 65, about one in 50, and up to 7.2 per cent for those aged 70 and over.
There have been widely varying estimates for the death rate, but experts have agreed that it stands above 0.1 per cent – which is the rate for flu and pneumonia.