'Very surprising' if UK manages to avoid second wave of coronavirus, top scientist warns

·4 min read
People walk with bags after shopping at the Selfridges department store in London, Monday, June 15, 2020. After three months of being closed under coronavirus restrictions, shops selling fashion, toys and other non-essential goods are being allowed to reopen across England for the first time since the country went into lockdown in March.(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Non-essential shops reopened in England on Monday. (AP)

It will be “very surprising” if the UK manages to avoid a second wave of coronavirus, a leading scientist has warned.

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, said it is likely that COVID-19 cases will spike again as a result of lockdown restrictions easing.

On Monday, the House of Lords science and technology committee heard that countries such as China and Iran have experienced second waves of the outbreak, and that Hong Kong is nearing its third wave.

Sir John told the committee: "I think it is possible that we might not have a second wave.

"But I think given the fact that the lockdown has now been largely released, we're now back in action, and we have still, pretty rapidly declining, but a pretty reasonable level of infections in the community, I would be very surprised if we avoided the second wave."

He added: “I think the real question is, are we going to have a number of single outbursts around the country and then a second wave, or are we going to just get a second wave and when will that be?”

On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that England’s lockdown should not be lifted further until the government’s contact tracing system is “robust and effective”.

In its first week, the system identified almost 32,000 people who came into close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.

However, a third of those who tested positive could not be reached by the system or refused to hand over their contacts.

On Monday, non-essential shops were allowed to reopen across England, leading to huge queues at some stores. Pubs and restaurants will be closed until at least July.

Secondary schools may start reopening, following some primary schools that did so at the start of this month. Face masks are mandatory on public transport. Adults living alone or single parents may also join another household in a support “bubble”.

In Scotland, up to eight people from two households can gather outside while social distancing. Schools have been asked to start preparing for the return of pupils in the autumn.

In Wales, people are only permitted to meet members from one other household outside and must not travel more than five miles for leisure. All schools in Wales are set to reopen on 29 June.

Support bubbles for adults living alone are also allowed in Northern Ireland, where groups of 10 people who do not share a household can meet outside while social distancing. Schools have yet to reopen.

On Tuesday, the number of deaths involving COVID-19 in the UK passed 53,000, according to the latest available figures.

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Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the British public would be "rightfully very unforgiving" if the UK experienced a second spike of coronavirus.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, he said: "We need to make sure that what we do next doesn't mean that we end up in a situation where the virus comes back in a very big way again.

"People would be, I think rightly, very unforgiving about the second spike."

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: "What we now need to do is perform the task of both, frankly, restarting the economy, but without restarting the virus.

"What we cannot afford to do is to, having worked so hard to get this under control, the British people staying at home and all the rest of it, let that unlock and be in a situation where we end up with a second peak.”

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