‘Project Fear’: SAGE Scientists Warn of Third Wave if UK Scraps Lockdown

A pedestrian walks by a mural during the national coronavirus restrictions in Manchester, northwest England, on November 26, 2020. - London will escape the tightest restrictions once England's national coronavirus lockdown ends next week, the government said Thursday, but major cities including Manchester and Birmingham face at least two more …
OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

UK government scientists have predicted that the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions could result in a “third wave” of the Chinese virus, despite admitting that it is “highly unlikely” that any further outbreak of the coronavirus would overwhelm the healthcare system.

Modelling conducted for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has suggested that lockdown measures should remain in place longer than the planned reopening in June.

The results of the research by Imperial College London stated that a third wave of the virus could hit the UK in the late summer or early autumn, which could see comparable hospitalisations to the second wave in January.

Further modelling from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) of the SAGE quango said that while there is a large degree of uncertainty about the impact of lifting lockdown measures, it is “highly likely” that the country will experience a “further resurgence in hospitalisations and deaths.”

The paper admitted, however, that it is “highly unlikely” that easing of restrictions would “put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”

The government scientists called for a level of “baseline measures” to be left in effect, such as mask-wearing and social distancing requirements, in order to prevent future outbreaks.

Former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “We’ve only got to look across the Channel and see that France currently has over 39,000 new cases a day, so the virus is still very much around and if we take all the brakes off, then it’s quite clear that there is a very substantial risk of a further wave of infection.”

The warnings have been met with derision from lockdown-sceptic Conservative MPs, with former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith who said that the government’s scientists are employing “Project Fear” tactics — a reference to the doom-mongering by anti-Brexit activists ahead of the 2016 EU referendum.

Smith went on to predict that Britain will be stuck in a state of “demi-lockdown” even after Boris Johnson lifts some restrictions.

Conservative MP Marcus Fysh told the Daily Mail: “I think SAGE’s latest position is just unacceptable, one way or another, this idea that we are going to have to have masks for the next year, social distancing for another year or more.

“We cannot be living in fear of a new variant. The reality is that booster shots will be required in the future to address new variations of Covid, probably just as we have new booster shots for flu each year.”

“I personally don’t think we should keep social distancing or face masks anymore. Once we are ready to open up properly then I think that should be the end of that for the time being,” Fysh added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for his part, has said that the latest doom projections from SAGE have not impacted the planned June re-opening, telling Sky News: “At the moment as I look at all the data, I can’t see any reason for us to deviate from the roadmap set out. We’re sticking to it.”

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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