Royal Society scientists are launching an urgent investigation into how to end the UK’s draconian lockdown and get the country up and running again.
World-leading experts from the prestigious scientific academy will review how other nations have dealt with the pandemic to help come up with its strategy for Britain.
They will review the benefit of face masks, the dangers of letting children go back to school and whether the virus will wane in the warm summer months.
Analysis like this would normally take months, if not years. But the scientists will offer advice to the Government in a matter of weeks.
Plateauing infection rates and growing alarm about the economic consequences of lockdown has put pressure on ministers to start phasing out social restrictions.
But Dominic Raab, stepping in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, last night declared the draconian curbs will stay for at least another three weeks.
Royal Society scientists are launching an urgent investigation into how to end the UK’s draconian lockdown and get the country up and running again. Pictured: Passengers on a London Underground train this morning
Dominic Raab last night declared the draconian curbs will stay for at least another three weeks
Official figures show the daily increase in infections is plateauing – after peaking on April 10
It comes as Britain officially diagnosed more than 100,000 people with the virus – making it only the sixth country in the world to do so
The Royal Society has set up the Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE) multi-disciplinary group to come up with the exit strategy.
On its website, it said the investigation had ‘been discussed with and welcomed by Government’.
DELVE, made up of 14 leading experts from the country’s top universities, will give input to the Government through SAGE, its scientific advisory group for emergencies.
Four-fifths of Britons say they would not feel safe going back to normal life now with HALF resigned to curbs lasting into June
Britain is not ready for the coronavirus lockdown to be lifted even if the government wanted to, a poll revealed today.
Research for MailOnline found 80 per cent would not feel safe going back to everyday life at the moment, with nearly 60 per cent saying they are not comfortable leaving the house.
Around half are now resigned to the draconian ‘social distancing’ curbs being in place into June – and 37 per cent say they will keep obeying the rules indefinitely if the government believes it is necessary.
The extraordinary findings in the polling by Redfield & Wilton come despite some 43 per cent reporting that the crisis is damaging their mental health.
The figures underline the challenge for ministers amid fears that the message that people must stay at home to save the NHS has been too successful.
Founded in 1660 and made up of around 1,300 members, the Royal Society – the oldest scientific academy in the world – brings together luminaries of the scientific world.
The late Stephen Hawking and Sir John Sulston, who oversaw the human genome project, were former fellows. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, is among its current fellows.
Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and nephew Prince William are among its royal fellows. The Queen is the society’s patron.
It comes after Dominic Raab – standing in for Boris Johnson who is recovering from COVID-19 – last night declared lockdown will stay for at least another three weeks.
The Foreign Secretary confirmed the public’s ‘efforts are starting to pay off’ but draconian curbs cannot yet be lifted after he chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee.
In a sombre speech in Downing Street, Mr Raab said: ‘Overall, we still don’t have the infection rate down as far as we need to.
‘As in other countries we have issues with the virus spreading in some hospitals and in care homes and in sum, the very clear advice we have received is that any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus.
‘That would threaten a second peak of the virus and substantially increase the number of deaths.
‘It would undo the progress we have made to date and as a result would require an even longer period of the more restrictive social distancing measures.
‘So early relaxation would do more damage to the economy over a longer period and I want to be really clear about this.
Research for MailOnline by Redfield & Wilton found 80 per cent would not feel safe going back to everyday life at the moment
Around half the public are now resigned to the draconian ‘social distancing’ curbs being in place into June
‘The advice from SAGE is that relaxing any of the measures currently in place would risk damage to both public health and our economy.’
Mr Raab said when the government has met its criteria it will look to adjust the measures to make them ‘as effective as possible in protecting public health whilst allowing some economic and social activity to resume’.
‘But we will only do it when the evidence demonstrates that it is safe to do it,’ he said. It could involve relaxing measures in some areas while strengthening measures in other areas.’
Mr Raab insisted ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel’ but refused to set out a ‘definitive timeframe’ for easing the lockdown measures.
He said: ‘The Prime Minister said at the outset that it would take three months to come through the peak and I think that, broadly, is still the outline.
‘We can’t give a definitive timeframe, that would be to prejudge the evidence, that wouldn’t be a responsible thing to do.’
The Government is under massive pressure to set out an ‘exit strategy’ from the social distancing measures.
Its own watchdog warned GDP could plunge by a third and two million people lose their jobs.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.
However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.
Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.
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