The government appears to have abandoned its “data, not dates” principle, an expert advising its coronavirus response has warned, adding that its reluctance to delay unlocking has resulted in “mixed” messages.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a psychologist with the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviors (Spi-B), joined scientists warning of the final lifting of restrictions on June 21 as 4,000 cases surpassed 4,000 for the first time since the end of March Friday.
Reicher said the government had invested “so much political capital” on certain dates that it has become difficult to deviate from it if the data suggests it is necessary.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today program: “I think we are in a difficult situation right now because of the government. I think the reason is that he strayed from his own mantra of ‘data, not dates’. Very quickly, “data, not dates” became “dates, not data”.
The behavioral psychologist’s remarks come as the variant first detected in India is rapidly spreading to hot spots across the UK. Cases of the worrying variant, known as B.1.617.2, have doubled over the past week, with up to three-quarters of new cases now believed to be caused by the variant.
Reicher said: “The data we’re seeing right now suggests we have a problem. We don’t know how big the problem is – it can be serious, it can be very serious, we will find out in the next week or two.
“But the problem for the government is on the one hand that it cannot delay what it has been promising for so long, but on the other hand it is aware of the dangers of doing so. “
He said this reluctance to postpone the easing of restrictions is leading the government to behave in “contradictory” ways that “undermine” its response – for example, telling people that they are allowed to travel abroad but that they are advised not to do so. “This contradiction, this feeling of confusion, I think, undermines the response,” Reicher said.
Professor Anthony Harnden, vice-chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), has also advised to exercise caution as England look to June 21.
Harnden told BBC Breakfast there was a need to monitor the spread of the variant first detected in India “very carefully” over the next one or two weeks.
Harnden said: “Even as we unlock, if you are in a vulnerable position, especially if you haven’t been vaccinated, you have to continue to be careful.
“I think we’ve all gotten used to living within limits at the moment and I think it’s not an ‘all or nothing’, I think it will be a gradual process, even though the June 21 date is. advanced. “
According to a Times report, ministers plan to continue advising remote working and the use of face masks after June 21 as part of plans to prioritize ending social distancing. Ending distancing restrictions such as the 1-meter rule is seen as vital for the recovery of the hotel industry.
Independent Sage member Christina Pagel argued on Friday that the final stage of unlocking should be delayed by two months “until a much higher proportion of people are vaccinated with both doses” because a vaccine injection offers only 33% protection against B.1.617.2. So far, around 46% of UK adults have received both doses.