Former govt adviser: ‘The economy is critical for health’

by birtanpublished on June 29, 2020

now the government's always insisted it

was following the science on coronavirus

but in recent weeks the economy has also

had a big impact on decisions as well in

just a few days time pubs and

restaurants across the UK will start to

reopen and on Tuesday the Prime Minister

will make a major speech about the

economic recovery so is the sounds still

the guiding principle let's try and find

out we're joined by a sir mark wall port

to with the government's chief

scientific adviser for four years and

who sits on the sage Advisory Committee

thank you very much for being on the

show well as I just said the reopening

of the hospitality sector of

non-essential businesses has already

begun some scientists are split on

whether they think it's a good idea how

comfortable are you with the idea that

the economy does seem to be slowly being

reopened well I mean the economy is as

critical for health as anything else and

so it's been a fine balancing act all

along and so there are health harms from

a damaged economy from people being out

of work and so one's got to balance the

managing the corona virus pandemic

controlling it but also keeping the

economy going at the same time that of

course some people are worried that by

reopening shops pubs restaurants we

could actually be pushing up the rate of

transmission which could lead to another

spike damaging to the economy too and

we'll talk more about the reopening of

schools in the programme is that

something else that could push up the

rate of transmission well I mean again

it's about how you open up the economy

whilst managing to maintain as much

social distancing as you possibly can

and so it's why staying apart keeping

the numbers of people low in shops for

example wearing masks if you're going to

be in close proximity all of those

things really matter and so it's this

balance between getting things going but

making sure that people take personal

responsibility because at the end of the

day it's down to each of us as

individuals to use our sense to try and

reduce social contact as much as

possible it's that balance all along and

is the balance right at the minute

um well I mean the answer is that where

the science comes in is that there's

very close monitoring going on all of

the time and what the office for

national statistics data shows that at

any one time in England at the moment

there are around 1100 people infer

actively infected there are about 3,000

new cases a day across England with some

similar proportions across the whole of

the UK and we know that there are about

890 cases confirmed by testing each day

so the virus is out there it is very

widely distributed and we have to have

conservationists and so it also depends

on people if they get the symptoms if

they get high fever is they get

persistent cough if they lose their

taste or smell then they've got to use

their sense and isolate themselves and

their contacts have to isolate as well I

mean when you read out those figures it

does feel like we have a relatively high

prevalence of the virus still among us

and if the isolation is to work like you

say we also need a really effective a

track and trace system where people are

being tested and then their contacts

traced are you are you confident of that

it's working as it should well I mean

the numbers speak for themselves the

numbers are building up so I've got the

numbers here between the 11th and the

17th of June there were multiplying up

those 890 cases about just over 6,000

that were tested and they managed to

reach 70% of those and about 75% of

those the the the 4870 gave details of

contacts but I mean the others it's not

a perfect system it's not perfect

anywhere in the world and it does depend

as I say on people being sensible and

responsible sensible and responsible and

of course I've taken that responsibility

seriously and do you feel that a second

spike is inevitable inevitable is a very

strong word and it depends what one

means by a second spike because I think

the other thing that's coming clear now

is that when outbreaks occur they

typically occur in clusters and we're

seeing certain work environments for

example food processing factories as

being fairly common places for those

clusters to ride

rise in Korea they found for example in

places of worship that clusters have

risen and if you like and the common

denominator is really being indoors

being crowded or being there for

prolonged periods of time as if noisy

environments where people are coughing

and shouting and so there's more droplet

transmission and so again it come back

to local control being really important

to identify those clusters when they

happen and clamp down on them quickly so

the answer is that we need to do

everything we possibly can to avoid a

widespread second wave the evidence that

the virus does transmit better and Co

workplaces again suggest that winter

might be quite a risky time again yeah I

wanted to pick up on that because I was

really struck by the number of cases

that seemed to be being found at these

food processing plants these factories

where there are of course refrigerated

temperatures do you think that could be

a real warning sign that this could come

back in winter at a time when the NHS is

already under more pressure that is

obviously a significant risk and what's

probably happening is that in these cold

probably slightly damp environments as

well the virus which requires probably a

bit of moisture and enveloped RNA virus

to survive just last longer in the air

and on surfaces in cold wet environment

but of course it is an additional

problem winter because that's the time

when there are other viruses so there's

nothing particularly unusual in corona

virus in that respect but it's the time

when flu comes on the scene and all the

other coughs and colds and sneezes that

we get in which time and now you of

course have been looking at the hunt for

vaccine as well I remember those

headlines saying one might be ready by

September which feels quite optimistic

now what is the current situation on the

hunt for a vaccine and when do you think

one could be available I mean the

current situation is that there are

vaccines around the world and I mean the

UK is one of the global leaders in this

and two of the vaccines one from Oxford

and one from Imperial College are now

going into clinical trials and we're

also in a position potentially to

manufacture these at large scale but the

answer is that before you vaccinate at

the level of

halation you need some evidence that the

vaccine works and also that there are no

unforeseen harmful side effects as far

as possible and so in terms of

large-scale vaccine vaccinations that's

extremely unlikely until next yeah but

there may be very significant trial

starting from now through to the autumn

say there you say there of course were

still learning about this new virus what

immunity will have how long that will

last for you know is there a chance that

we may not actually get a vaccine at all

for coronavirus that works effectively

and could this be something that you

think that we'll always be living with

nothing is guaranteed but there is

natural immunity to this virus in the

sense that people's immune system does

actually bring it under the control so

the very fact that we get better is

because our immune system is responding

and so I think you know we would be

unlucky if there wasn't a vaccine that

worked eventually but nothing in life is

absolutely guaranteed and of course I

mean the other thing that UK is actually

doing well in globally is around the

research on the clinical treatments that

work and so the recovery trial at trial

which has been jointly funded by the

National Institute of Health Research in

the Box Health and Social Care and UK

research innovation has shown for

example that dexamethasone which is an

anti-inflammatory steroid has a

significant effect in reducing mortality

in patients with severe disease now it

isn't a magic bullet and we don't have a

perfect antiviral agent yet but we have

to take all the approaches and so we

need not only put all our effort into

vaccine development but also into

developing new drugs new antiviral

agents new agents that might deal with

the sort of the lethal second phase of

the infection that unfortunately affects

a small but important minority of people

now just finally mmm of course we'll be

looking back it's the response to copa90

did in many years time we wouldn't have

a clear picture until then but it does

look as if the UK could be on course to

have a higher death toll and a worse

economic hit potentially a longer

lockdown than some of our European

neighbors now there will of course be

criticism directed at the government for

its response but I just wonder whether

british scientists needs to share some

of that responsibility too just looking

at you know some of these sage committee

advice in february sage saying that

where there is sustained transmission in

the UK contact tracing will no longer be

useful and Prevention of mass gatherings

wouldn't be effective as when in

limiting transmission on the 10th of

march saying public gatherings posed a

relatively low public risk I mean do you

accept that on cope at 19 it does seem

that scientists in the UK have got

something's wrong I think that you know

the retrospective is a very very

powerful instrument as I said before and

I think that there will be plenty of

time to look at enquiries I think that

you know did the UK lock down a bit

later than it should I think history

will probably show that it did but I

think we're talking about you know

decisions of days and the scientific

advice was always very strongly to test

and I think that one of the other things

that will need to be looked at later is

the whole sort of logistics and response

and how much as it were the UK and other

countries paid in the insurance policies

in advance to protect against pandemics

it was the top thing and still is the

top thing on the UK's national risk

register and I think that what history

will also show is that those countries

that had experienced previous very nasty

pandemics or bizarre epidemics of

infection have been better prepared and

so it was in Korea that they had an

outbreak of the MERS coronavirus which

is if it can be imagined very much worse

than actually they coded 19 crises that

were going through at the moment the

countries that had bird flu the

countries that had SARS the first sort

of variant of this were all better

prepared and I think that that's one of

the important lessons which is that we

need to worry a bit more about the next

emergency as well as actually being well

compared for the last one yeah very

quickly and because it's been very

interesting hearing what you said do you

think the government has been listening

to the science I think the government

have been listening to the sounds

throughout and but it comes back to your

first question actually which is a

of the day the policymakers and it's not

the scientists who make the policy it is

entirely politicians who are the

policymakers they've had to balance a

series of very difficult but completely

issues which is the major harms that

occur to society if supply lines break

down for example if transport systems

break down and all of the effects on the

economy and you know schools is another

example where we know that children will

come to harm if they miss out on their

education for a prolonged period

I'm afraid it's you know much easier to

be the scientific advice of them is to

be the policy maker

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