Social distancing rules could remain in place until 2022, Sage report warns

George Martin
·3 min read
A person passes an 'Act like you've got it' government coronavirus sign on Commercial road in Bournemouth, during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Picture date: Friday January 22, 2021. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
An 'Act like you've got it' government coronavirus sign in Bournemouth. (Getty)

Social distancing rules could remain in place until 2022 unless COVID is completely eradicated by mass vaccinations, the government’s scientific advisers have warned.

A report by Sage, the committee which advises the government on its response to the pandemic, suggests that the current nationwide lockdown will have to last until May even in the “best case scenario”.

The research paper was commissioned by a Sage subgroup and written by modellers at the University of Warwick, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

According to their modelling, if the restrictions were lifted next month it would cause another surge in deaths peaking at around 1,000 a day.

Watch: One year on from first known coronavirus death in the UK

However, the number of deaths could increase to 1,500 per day if vaccines were found to be only 60% effective at preventing transmission.

The study adds: "Only vaccines that offer high infection-blocking efficacy with high uptake in the general population [will] allow relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions without a huge surge in deaths."

Dr Sam Moore said that even vaccines with 85% efficacy would not drive the virus's R rate below one.

Read more: UK records 1,200 more coronavirus deaths and 23,275 cases

He added: "The vaccines are not going be 100% effective at stopping serious disease. So if you manage to get, say, 85% of people to take it and it turns out to be 90% effective, that's still 25% of people who could die from it, which is a lot of people."

It comes as international development secretary Liz Truss declined to rule out that some social distancing measures will have to be in place for the rest of the year.

Londoners in protective face masks are seen commuting in London Tube as the UK's government introduced strict Coronavirus restrictions - tier 4 Stay at Home policy - earlier this month due to increased number of Covid-19 cases in the UK - London, England on January 22, 2021. Only essential shops can be opened. Exercising and going to work are exceptions in Stay at Home policy. Everyone must wear a face mask in public places. (Photo by Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Londoners in protective face masks while commuting. (Getty)

She told Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "I don't want to make predictions about the situation in the autumn, I think it's far too far away.

"Long-term predictions in what is a very, very unpredictable situation are not wise."

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the vaccine rollout is proceeding as planned and added that he is "confident" of the UK's vaccine supply.

He told BBC Breakfast: "We're progressing extremely well in the number of vaccines in this country, we've had 8.3 million first doses so far.

"The government have ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and 40 million of the Pfizer vaccine, both of which we're giving out at the moment.

"These vaccines aren't easy to manufacture, it's a complicated process involving a lot of batch testing and supply chains, there are bound to be some bumps along the road.

"I'm quite confident the vaccine task force has ordered so many millions of doses of different vaccines that we can keep the supply going."

Watch: Will vaccines provide the way out of lockdown?