Coronavirus: Strict Social Distancing Needs to Be in Place ‘Half of a Year’

TOPSHOT - Two women observe social distancing measures as they speak to each other from adjacent park benches amidst the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, in the centre of York, northern England on March 19, 2020. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) says that the “stricter” social distancing measures would need to be in place half of the year in order to stop the NHS being overwhelmed with Chinese coronavirus cases.

The paper, dated from Monday but released on Friday, said that the consensus view of the scientists was that “the addition of both general social distancing and school closures to case isolation, household isolation, and social distancing of vulnerable groups would be likely to control the epidemic when kept in place for a long period”.

The SAGE note added that “a policy of alternating between periods of more and less strict social distancing measures could plausibly be effective at keeping the number of critical care cases within capacity.

“These would need to be in place for at least most of a year. Under such as policy, at least half of the year would be spent under the stricter social distancing measures.”

With such measures, SAGE adds, it would take two to three weeks for the alleviative effect to be felt in hospitals’ intensive care units (ICUs).

Strict measures include social distancing for everyone, regardless of the appearance of health, and closing schools. Less strict measures would mean isolation of households and social distancing for vulnerable groups like senior citizens and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

The prospect of some kind of social distancing measures being in place for much of the year comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that “we can turn the tide” on coronavirus “within the next 12 weeks”.

“But only if we all take the steps that we’ve outlined – that is vital,” Mr Johnson said.

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist from the University of Reading, told Sky News on Friday that the 12-week remarks are valid “if everything goes to plan”, which also relies on everyone following social distancing advice.

The microbiologist predicted that going into the autumn, and possibly the winter, there will be “some more spiking, some more bumps along the road where, possibly, you’ll see the reintroduction of measures.”

“This is by no means the end of the road. We’ll still be looking at this, I think, into early next year, at least,” Dr Clarke said.

The Reading academic said that that does not mean complete lockdown for the whole year, predicting: “It will mean a series of measures, maybe lighter, maybe stricter, than we have now. You’ll see it switched on and off. It might be done on a regional or local basis.”

The regional measures suggested by Dr Clarke are in line with recommendations in the SAGE briefing paper, which notes that special measures could be arranged regionally.

London could be a region subject to stricter measures, with the capital becoming the infection hotspot for the United Kingdom.

It has been warned that people are failing to abide by currently advisory recommendations to self-isolate. A report claims that one London hospital trust has already had to turn away coronavirus patients, referring them to other hospitals because they do not have the capacity.

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