Scientists have warned that the UK has “only two to three weeks” to contain coronavirus before control is lost placing the country in a far worse mess than before lockdown.
The coronavirus transmission rate could now be as high as 1.4 in the UK, according to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).
The R (reproduction) number is between 1.1 and 1.4, according to SAGE, showing there is “widespread growth of the epidemic across the country.”
This means that infections are growing by 2% and 7% every day across the country, which is higher than last week’s R number of between 1.0 and 1.2.
Scientists who advise the government have said the R number must remain below 1 to prevent the virus from getting out of control.
Previously the government warned that if the R number does rise above 1 then a national lockdown could happen.
Christina Pagel, Professor of operational research at University College London (UCL) who took parts in a briefing organised by Independent SAGE group scientists, that the UK is “not in a good place.”
She warned that the UK is now on a “knife edge” and stressed that more action is needed immediately to prevent a more serious second wave.
Neuroscientist Professor Karl Friston of UCL warned that the UK literally has “only two to three weeks” to improve the shambolic contact tracing, otherwise it will become impossible to contain.
Professor Friston added, “The headline from the quantitative modelling of recent trends in new cases is clear: now is the time for ‘shoe-leather’ epidemiology.
“In short, a redeployment of resources away from remote ‘call centres’ to local and experienced public health teams who can find, monitor, and support people who have acquired the infection, and their contacts.
“Crucially, this kind of contact tracing can only be done effectively using local knowledge (eg cultural aspects), expertise and detective work.
“It is not dependent on an overstretched testing infrastructure – tests are an important adjunct to identifying cases and may be better deployed for the asymptomatic contacts of confirmed cases.”
The Professor’s modelling indicates that by doubling the test and trace system from 16% to 32% that this will “save 1,000s od lives,” but the government must “act now.”
An Independent SAGE spokesman gave a grim warning, he said, “We are in a crisis.
“Infections and hospital admissions are rapidly increasing. The testing system has broken down and it will be weeks before it is sorted.”
The spokesman added, “If nothing changes, there will come a point soon when the situation is so far out of control that the only possible response will be a second national lockdown and our lives will be completely disrupted once again.
“No one wants this to happen. But we can only avoid it if we take urgent action.
“We must take action now to regain control of the pandemic and drive down infections now.
“The virus will continue to pose a threat for months, if not years, but for now we need a comprehensive plan that includes measures that we can take immediately and a strategy to rebuild our broken test and trace system.
“And we must all – Government, employers and public alike – take responsibility for our own part in making this plan work.”