Sheffield expert praises Covid roadmap out of lockdown – but highlights one major problem

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A Sheffield-based public health expert has praised the Government’s ‘fairly measured’ approach to lifting restrictions – but said there is ‘no zero-risk solution’.

Lifting restrictions will be split into four stages, with a minimum of five weeks between each to observe the effects of easing restrictions.

Criteria – concerning vaccine rollout and effectiveness, infection rates and mutations – will need to be met each time the country is due to move onto the next stage.

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Dr Andrew Lee, reader in global public health at the University of Sheffield, said: “Without adequate control measures, the epidemic could rapidly escalate, overwhelming public health systems and necessitating painful lockdowns to restore control.

Beer gardens in Sheffield could open on April 12.Beer gardens in Sheffield could open on April 12.
Beer gardens in Sheffield could open on April 12.

"With that in mind, the proposed phased release from lockdown, allowing the impact of each phase to be assessed before the next, is a fairly measured approach. There is, though, no zero-risk solution.”

Easing restrictions will begin with the reopening of schools on March 8 and the ‘expected' new infections that follow should not be a cause for alarm, Dr Lee said.

He said: “We know the disease tends to be mild in children.

“It’s right that schools are the first sector to open up. The adverse impacts of lockdown on children have been substantial, including the loss of learning opportunities."

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He added: “The risk of school infections also reflects infection levels in the community. Falling infections across society mean schools are relatively safe.

"There are also generally fewer infections in children than in adults, so there is unlikely to be a significant impact on healthcare services.”

If everything goes to plan, all restrictions will be banished by June 21, but international travel may still be banned.

Dr Lee said: “Each phased lifting of restrictions will increase the infection risk. The key countermeasure to this is our vaccine strategy, as emerging evidence suggests the vaccines can prevent transmission as well as disease.

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"Once those at greatest risk are covered, vaccines should target at those most likely to spread the virus.”

Younger adults, key workers and those in ‘high-risk’ professions, such as supermarket or hospitality workers, should be prioritised, Dr Lee said.

He added: “Such an approach could help drive down infections more quickly, offset the risks of opening up other sectors of the economy, and perhaps allow a quicker return to some semblance of normality.”